Saturday, May 21, 2005

Transmedia World: Republic Commando

Last night, I saw Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, which I will refrain from commenting on directly, other than to say that I enjoyed it for the most part. One of the things that added to my enjoyment of the movie was the use of other media to fill in the story between Episode II and Episode III. For instance, the Clone Wars cartoon, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack and Dexter's Lab fame. I didn't see them all, but I liked what I saw, and little details like Anakin's rise to Jedi Knighthood and the kidnapping of Chancellor Palpatine by General Grievous were nice to know going into Episode III [though I'm sure the movie would have held up ok even if I hadn't seen the cartoons]. Apparently, there were books and comics too.

However, my favorite transmedia use of the franchise is the recent videogame Star Wars: Republic Commando [for more about the idea of transmedia, see Henry Jenkins]. Luckily, I finished RC a few days before Episode III came out. I hadn't planned on timing it like that, but it worked out nicely. This may sound odd, but my favorite thing about RC was that there was very little in the way of climactic encounters. It did a fantastic job of capturing the feel of being part of a military operation, and making me feel like the leader of a squad of clone commandos doing the dirty work of the Republic. My squad and I weren't the heroes of the war; we just killed a lot of Geonosians, droids, and Trandoshans.

Little moments in the game, during play, reinforced this notion of being important but not heroic. For instance, at one point, I looked through a window and had General Grievous in my sights. I fired, but he moved out of the way at just the right moment, and my shot did nothing more than alert his guards to my presence. Even though I know that I couldn't have killed him, I felt very much a part of that larger battle that was later resolved in the movie.

Designing a videogame as part of a transmedia world, seems to me like the "right" way to approach making a movie-based game. LucasArts developed a fun game around an experience that supported but didn't interfere with the movie, and in doing so, created an artifact that contributed to the story. Not only did it contribute to the story, though, it also personalized the experience of the movie for me.

Some of my favorite parts of Episode III were when I recognized something from the game. When a Jedi carved through some super battle droids, I had a greater appreciation for that feat, having faced SBDs with delta squad. When General Grievous appeared, I thought of that time when I had him in my sights. When Tarful, the Wookiee leader, said goodbye to Yoda on Kashyyyk, I smiled to myself, knowing that I had liberated Tarful from Trandoshan slavers earlier.

I wasn't the hero of the story, but part of the Star Wars story had become my own.


At 1:13 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

Neal Stephenson wrote an op-ed for today's New York Times that touches on the transmedia nature of the Star Wars universe, and he makes some interesting connections to our modern culture.

Hint: He calls the Jedi "the geekiest people in the universe: they have beards and ponytails, they dress in army blankets, they are expert fighter pilots, they build their own laser swords from scratch."


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