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Six Reasons to Play MechWarrior Online

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment

For those of you not familiar with the MechWarrior franchise or the BattleTech universe, allow me to introduce you to MechWarrior Online, the latest installation in the series.

The basic premise of the BattleTech universe is as follows:

In the distant future humanity has broken free of the shackles of our solar system and begun settling the vast reaches of space.  Over time human nature rears its ugly head, leading to any number of wars over the period of a millennia.

At some point in time humans perfected the IndustrialMech—a (usually) bi-pedal humanoid machine capable of aiding humans in completing various work more quickly and easily.  As usual, the military applications of the technology become far more important and it isn’t long before the mechs become weaponized.  From that point on, mechs dominated the battlefield.

Inner Sphere Ca. 3050

The Inner Sphere (ca 3050) with colors denoting the various Successor States and their holdings. The center point at which all Successor States meet is Terra Firma (Earth).

MWO is set in the year 3050, long after the Star League—a government uniting almost all humans under one banner—fell and the various states that existed attempted to fill the vacuum left by the Star League in the most selfish manner of all.  These states—known as the Successor States—engaged in numerous wars leading up to 3050.  Currently, the MWO universe resides on the precipice of an impending disaster—one that will shake all of the Inner Sphere (the geographical domain of the Successor States).Until then, the various Houses in power are still engaging in their various squabbles and wars over land, power and resources. MWO is an amazing game, and if you aren’t already playing it I suggest that you begin to do so.  If you aren’t totally convinced, allow me to provide the following reasons to help sway you.

MWO Is Familiar…

MWO is, at its core, a first-person shooter.  The various objectives in the two game modes are reminiscent of the game modes available in the most popular FPS games.  There is, upon playing a match in MWO, a sense of familiarity to it all.

The familiarity is what makes MWO so welcoming to people who are not familiar with the franchise.

Atlas HUD

The HUD within your mech. Note that it is very similar to other HUDs in FPS games.

Matches in MWO are played in teams of 8 players, for 16 total in a match.  The matches themselves involve various capture points that each team can capture, though destruction of all enemy mechs is also a condition for victory.  At the end of a match players are awarded XP and c-bills (in-game currency) that can be used to advance your character and customize your mech.

If it all sounds very much like the COD or Battlefield series of FPSs, you’re right.

The control method is also similar enough that players who have yet to touch any MechWarrior games will not be totally lost in their first matches.  Nonetheless, the controls still have a learning curve to them.

So while MechWarrior games may be foreign to you, MWO is going to be familiar enough to be welcoming and easy to learn.

…But It Is Also Different

While at the most fundamental level MWO is an FPS that is similar to other FPSs, the game is true to the MechWarrior franchise and BattleTech universe, as various unique systems are introduced into MWO that will be familiar to experienced MW players. What separates MWO—and really all of the MechWarrior series—is that it is really the thinking person’s shooter.

I am not a big fan of the COD/Battlefield games.  For one, if I wanted to be yelled at by thirteen year olds who think it’s cool to shout racial slurs, I could have become a junior high teacher.  Since that is not the path I took, I want a game in which I don’t have to worry that some tween is going to lose his shit and/or teabag me.

But the real reason I never got into games like COD/Battlefield is the gameplay itself.  While the core basis of the game is not objectionable, the game itself feels like one must be on speed in order to actually play well, much less enjoy the game.

Consider the following gameplay from a COD game:

There is a lot going on in that game.  Players are falling left-and-right and the player recording even respawns at one point.  People walk around a corner only to be taken out with a single shot.  Movement is paramount, as stopping to time your shot is asking for a bullet to the face.

All-in-all, the COD/Battlefield games are twitchy FPSs that rely on instinct and lightning-fast response times in order to do well.  I do not deny that there are certain elements of strategy, but in general that strategy is limited to the following key points.

1)      Never stop moving.
2)      Always strafe.
3)      Fire your gun at the slightest provocation.
4)      If you die, it’s probably because you were too slow or stopped moving.
5)      Don’t stop moving.

Frantic games have a place in the hobby of gaming as a whole.  But the homogenization of the industry (to which I have previously devoted a post with no small amount of ire) means that almost every game plays this way, with the same elements.

Having a game that is familiar is nice, but I also think that it is about time we as gamers asked for a change of pace.  MWO is that change of pace.

Again, while the basic elements will be familiar, it is the rest of the game that is not.  For one, combat is slower and more deliberate.  Consider this video of MWO gameplay:

There is no shortage of excitement and even some very fast-paced action in MWO.  But for the most part, the game relies on your wits and coordination with the team.  If you are not cooperating with your teammates—even at the most fundamental level, which is sticking together as a group—you will watch your team get picked apart one-by-one.

Note the last event before death was “ammo explosion”. Which means this jackass was either running way too hot or got shot there, and either way didn’t have a CASE to contain the blast.

But the strategy goes beyond that.  Your torso twists separate from your legs, which means you can fire at enemies while retreating.  Your weapons also have maximum (and often minimum) effective ranges.  Selection of weapons for your mech depends upon what role you wish to fulfill, and in combat situations which weapon you use depends upon the range of engagement.  Finally, weapons generate heat, too much of which can cause damage to your mech or shut you down in the middle of a fight.  Heat management is a key to the game, both in terms of mech design and actual gameplay.

What all of the above translates to is the requirement that one think before doing in MWO.  Firing all of your weapons at once may do a lot of damage, but if it shuts you down— and you cannot move or fight back—then the damage will have been for nothing.  If you design a mech for long-range combat with no short-range solutions, you need to be aware of your surroundings and always keep away from the front lines.

I could, quite easily, go on for pages and pages about all the ways that MWO separates itself from the COD series and its clones.  But I will just repeat that MWO is a shooter for the thinking person.  Every action—in the mech lab or on the battlefield—has far reaching consequences.

Make no mistake, though, that the game is intense even if not as fast-paced as COD.  There is no lack of excitement, but rather it is just not as twitchy and reflexive as your typical FPS.

The Game is Free-to-Play—and it’s F2P Model Works

No, really.  You are actually required to pay nothing—as of right now—to enjoy every major benefit of the game.  This is a topic I am going to address in its own post, so the following information will have to do for today.

I have a lot of qualms about free-to-play games, mostly because I have a lot of issues with microtransactions.  If you didn’t read that article previously and you’re not going to click the link, I have two issues with real-money transactions in games:

  1. Often microtransactions are a means for companies to make quick money off people for content that should have been included in the first place or that is hardly worth the money
  2. The second use is to provide players with powerful in-game items without having to do any of the work to actually earn them.  In most games time is a kind of currency that can be exchanged for more powerful items.  There is a reason you don’t get the best weapon from the first moment of the game.  Real-money transactions allow people to skip this work and, in online games, can result in unfair advantages for players who are have the money to spare over those who do not.

So I was a bit hesitant to immediately buy into MWO (in the figurative sense), as I did not want to enjoy the game only to find out that I cannot buy the exact mech I want without dropping real money.

Image

This is the various subscription levels for Star Wars: The Old Republic in its new payment model. Left column is full payment, right column is free-to-play. You might see why I was a tad concerned to hear MWO was F2P.

Fortunately, my concerns were unfounded.  Real money purchases MechWarrior Credits (or MC) which can be used for the following services:

1. Premium time.  This basically earns you more money and experience from each match in which you compete.
2. New BattleMechs that you can use right away and begin customizing immediately.
3. Exchanging one type of XP for another, harder to earn type of XP
4. Mech camo specs, essentially visual customization of the interior as well as cockpit of your mech.

What this means is that given enough time you can purchase the mech you want, give it the loadout you want and play it as much as you want.  If you are determined not to support Piranha Games, then you will have to live without custom camo for your mech.  I think that is a fair trade.

As far as those who do drop money—sometimes lots of it—to get mechs within the game, I would tell you not to be too concerned.  In any game there will be people who are very far ahead of you in terms of progression and skill.  The thing is, none of what that person has (besides perhaps his camo spec) is not obtainable through in-game money.  So, given enough time, however, you can balance out with other players without dropping a dime into the game.

Seeing as there is inequality inherent to games anyway, I figure that PGI’s model for f2p not only works, but addresses quite well the inequality issues inherent to the f2p or microtransaction model.  It isn’t perfect, but there is incentive to play even if you never intend to spend money on it.

It Needs Your Help

MechWarrior Online is the retooled MW5 game, made into a multiplayer online game.  Currently MWO is in its open beta phase, with a planned release date of late summer this year.  Pirhana Games, the developer, decided to use a free-to-play model for the new MechWarrior game and make it multiplayer only.

Image

Uncle Atlas want’s YOU. He also doesn’t want to get scavenged for parts and end up in a box for twenty years. Do not anger him.

Gamers familiar with the model will probably recognize that moving a game to free-to-play status is often a last-ditch effort by the devs to bolster falling subscription rates.   Star Wars: The Old Republic moved toward a three-tier free-to-play model to, as BioWare put it, “expose [the] game to the widest audience possible, so [they are] allowing everyone to download the game for no charge, then play the level 1-to-50 game without having to purchase anything.”  That is corporate buzzword for “our subscription numbers were falling and we figure if people play they’ll get hooked”.

Needless to say, starting off as free-to-play is a bit risky.  We live in an age where people can hardly be bothered to pay for the movies they watch or the music to which they listen.  Offering a fully-functional game for free and hoping that people will be willing to drop real money on bonus features is hoping for the best from an audience—i.e. the internet—that has shown nothing but disdain for the very corporations upon which they depend for entertainment.

That’s the risk: games cost a lot of money to develop and so Piranha and Infinite are putting down a lot of money for something that isn’t guaranteed to return that investment. There are discussions about certain future elements of the game requiring real money investment from players, but for the most part discussion is centered on the game still being fundamentally free.

That’s where you come in.  The more people who play the game, the more people there are that will enjoy it.  The more people that enjoy it the more people there are to feel the desire to pay for elements of the game to provide Piranha/Infinite with some money.  (While I currently can’t afford it, I will definitely support Piranha/Infinite in the future in this manner.)

The best part, though, is that the game really is absolutely free.  Like I said above, it is possible to play and enjoy the game without spending a dime.  You can pick it up, play it and—if you’re unimpressed—just uninstall it.  If you like it, you can still play without paying or you can choose to support the developers.  Regardless what option you choose, there is no risk to you. If it sounds like the kind of game you’d enjoy the least you can do is support the developers by giving it a shot and seeing where it takes you.

It’s Giant Walking Death Robots

Image

Except the ones in MWO have numerous weapons. Many, many weapons.

MechWarrior online is, really, just Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots for adults.

Do I really need to say anything more than that to get you interested?

It May Be the End for MechWarrior

As I stated above, PGI is working on MWO instead of MW5.  There was not enough interest in the game—especially without a PS3 version—and so PGI went this route.  It is a huge risk for them, but also for the fans of the BattleTech Universe.

From the release of MechWarrior 2 until the release of MW4: Mercenaries in 2001, the MechWarrior series was at least alive, if not moving in fits and starts.

Should MWO fail it may well mean no more MechWarrior games for a long time.  It took 9 years for MWO to come out after MW4.  In the meantime we saw some BattleTech video games, namely the MechAssault series.  But these games were not MechWarrior.  They played from a third person perspective and had none of the strategy required in previous MechWarrior installments.  These games are more in line with today’s FPS or games like Gears of War than with anything BattleTech.

Should MWO fail, it shows all the developers and publishers that gamers are only interested in clones of Gears of War, COD and Battlefield.

I am sick of those being the only games that anybody makes anymore, and I hope you are too.  They are insulting in so many ways (see my article about them, linked above) but most of all we need variety.  Even those who love COD/Battlefield no doubt need a break from those games from time-to-time.  MWO can be that break, and in doing so you help make sure that we continue to see quality MechWarrior titles in the future.

I have lived far too long without being able to build my own mech and unleash destruction on all who oppose me.  MWO has brought that dream back to me, and so I hope you’ll help keep MWO alive to keep the dream alive.

Yeah, I said it.

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Was the Empire Really So Bad? Part 3

Alright readers, for tonight’s update I’m going to continue to defend all-time bad guys The Galactic Empire.  This time, however, I’m going to do so by pointing out how awful the Rebel Alliance truly was.

Here’s a recap of some of the key points so far:  the Republic sucked and was the cause of its own demise.  The transition to the Galactic Empire was actually publicly liked (as evidenced in the last few minutes of Revenge of the Sith, and the Empire, while having some bad guys up top, was doing some good.  Namely, they were keeping scum like Han Solo off the space streets.

With that said, let’s look at their main enemies, the Rebel Alliance.

What Did the Rebels Even Want?

Within the first few minutes of A New Hope we’re introduced to the Rebel Alliance in the form of Vader boarding the Tantive V (yes, non Star Wars fans, I know the name of the ship off-hand) and declaring that everybody is a part of the Rebel Alliance and are traitors.

Alliance Leaders

“We want the ineffectual Old Republic back!”

By all accounts, the Rebels should be our heroes in Star Wars.  They stand against the empire who, we are to believe, are firmly evil and need to be taken down.

Except the only reason I can make a case for the Empire is that there were so few instances of them being truly evil outside of certain levels of leadership.  All of the events in the original trilogy are in response to the Rebellion (a point I’ll get to shortly) and we’re not told any reason—from before the formation of theAlliance—to actually think the Empire is evil.

The thing is, we’re not given any reason.  In fact, we know so little about the Rebels that all we know is they want to take the Empire down.  We don’t know why nor are we even given a slight hint as to what happened in the two decades between trilogies.

By comparison, most organizations—no matter how small and ill-formed—know what it is they are trying to achieve.  Consider al-Qaeda, who seem as nebulous in their goals as the Rebel Alliance.  We know they hate westerners and have declared a jihad.  That said, with some looking around you can easily find out that one of the main reasons is the idea of the Western world fronting a cultural assault on Muslims.  There is more depth to that, but we know what they want and why they want it.  You may not agree, but those reasons do exist and are stated.  No organization, terrorist or legitimate, is going to get what they want without openly stating those goals and their reasons.

Yet, the Rebels exist solely on the concept that the Empire is evil and that everybody must fight them.  Their list of reasons is minimal and the Rebels seem to assume that the Empire’s evil is self-evident to every onlooker.

Recruitment Strategy

So if the Empire was so blatantly, incontrovertibly evil then why was the Rebellion so small?  Seriously.

When you’re throwing everything you’ve got at a moon-size space station, consider something more effective than two dozen hand-me-down space fighters.

At the beginning of A New Hope we see a Rebel Alliance that is tiny and falling apart.  They are, by all means, on the very brink of losing everything to the Empire.  If the Empire is so terrible then why are so many people staying on the sidelines?  If, as we are to believe from the Special Edition endings showing multiple planets celebrating, the whole galaxy stands with the Rebels in spirit, then how is it that the Empire even stands the remotest chance of winning?

I realize the counter-argument there is that many people might not be willing to take the risk to work with the Rebels.  It no doubt endangers one’s family and friends, and so not everybody would take that risk, even if they did support the “ideals” of the Rebellion on an intellectual level.

Nonetheless, let’s look at a comparison.  The number of fighters that the Rebels fielded at the Battle of Yavin was around 25-30.  The screencap of it from the special edition (in which Lucas added more fighters than were originally shown) shows about 25.  That’s all of two-dozen capable pilots willing to fight to save the Rebellion.  Make no mistake, the Battle of Yavin (as with most battles the Rebellion fought in the films) was not something they would retreat from.  It was a last stand and an all-or-nothing endeavor.

And yet there are just over two dozen fighters.

Battle of Hoth

“You know, guys, I’m beginning to think sending infantry with small arms against giant, armor-plated walking dogs was a bad idea.”

Similarly, the Battle of Hoth was again an all-or-nothing stand with most of the body of the Rebellion on the planet trying to escape.  In the picture of this battle, you see maybe 15-20 ground infantry, plus less than a dozen snowspeeders that were put against the force of AT-ATs.

My point in all of this is very simple: the Rebellion had almost nobody fighting for it.  Remember from the last post in the series that the galactic population is in the quintillions.  And the force of the Rebels is maybe a thousand at the Battle of Hoth, if you were to include support personnel.  This means that of the galactic population only 0.000000000001% were willing to fight with the Rebellion.

Consider the French Resistance in WW2.  Plagued by similar fears that their families and friends would suffer were they to join the Resistance, the French had a fairly small number of supporters.  While it’s hard to pin down exactly how many supported the Resistance in anything other than thought, it’s estimated that it was somewhere between 1-2 percent of the French population.  In other words, the French Resistance had 20000000000 times more people (in proportion) fighting for them.

Rebel Fleet at Endor

Remember when Leia’s ship in A New Hope was easily defeated by and fit into the docking bay of a Star Destroyer? I bet the Emperor was just squealing with glee when the Rebels decided sending a bunch of those against the Death Star was a good idea.

Before I get drowned in too much math and comparison, my point is simply thus: if the Rebels were so damned right in their conviction that the Empire was evil and it had to be taken down, how is it that their total support was absolutely miniscule?  Even considering that people would be afraid to take action, one would expect a Rebellion against the Empire to be a bit bigger than it was.

Final note: at the Battle of Endor the Rebellion fielded an entire fleet and no doubt, by this time, their numbers had grown.  I’m sure this was partly bolstered by their prior victory against the first Death Star.  Nonetheless, it could be assumed that if that was the entire fleet (as again, this was an all-or-nothing gamble) at the time of the Battle of Endor, it is still absolutely miniscule in comparison to the support one would expect them to have.

The Rebellion Would Have Failed without a Farmboy

At the beginning of A New Hope (as well as in a deleted scene with Biggs, Luke’s friend at the Tosche Station), Luke discusses the idea of going away to the academy.  In fact the academy he spoke of was not some Rebel-run terrorist training camp, but the academy of the Imperial Navy.

“Someday I’m going to fight with the Rebel Alliance I care nothing about in a war with the Empire that means nothing to me personally. But I’ll be damned if I won’t save the entire Alliance on numerous occasions.”

Biggs discusses this scene in more detail at the Tosche Station scene, stating that he left the academy to join the Rebellion (or something of the sorts).  Nonetheless, Luke’s entire attitude toward the Rebels, before becoming so involved, was that of curiosity.  Luke would have joined a traveling space circus if it got him off-planet.  The fact that he got to fly a fighter with the Rebels only sweetened the pot.

But beyond that, Luke was the only hope of the Rebellion.  He is shown, time and again, to be the reason the Rebels get out of their scrapes.  For all of the defected personal coming from the Imperial Navy, a simple farmboy (who admittedly has the Force) manages to outperform these pilots at every turn.

The fact that Luke made his fateful shot on the first Death Star by pure luck seems to be largely ignored.  For all the Force he had in him, if Han hadn’t taken the shot and confused the other TIE pilot who hit Vader, he would have been space dust before the shot went off.

The Rebels do, clearly, exist plainly on luck.  They were about to fail at every turn were it not for a convenient deus ex machina in the form of a moisture farmer.

So the Rebels Win? Then What?

I think this particular point really heavily goes back to the idea that the galaxy needs a powerful influence.  While the Republic sucked, it at least had most everyone unified under the same banner.  Ineffectual as it was, it was still a centralized government that had some power.  The Empire, too, seemed to control almost the entire galaxy worth controlling.  (Would you really bother to send a garrison to Tattooine if you didn’t have to?  Thought not.)

Because taking out the Death Star and killing the Emperor will certainly dissuade this ENORMOUS FLEET from blowing up the Rebels.

The Rebels, at the end of Return of the Jedi, have killed Vader and Palpatine.  The entire galaxy celebrates and we’re left with a happy ending.  Except for one enormous, terrible looming question: then what?

You see, nobody dared stand against the Emperor or Vader because, quite simply, you couldn’t.  They would kill you easily and your attempt at a coup would be over.  They wielded supreme power without the fear that they could ever (except by another force user, who they had killed) be taken down.

When the Rebels take them down, I highly doubt the Empire just surrendered and called it a day.  Consider the size of the Imperial fleet when Lando and the crew in the Falcon go at it head on.  In that picture alone I can count 21 Imperial-class Star Destroyers and the SSD Executor.  It’s hard to say, exactly, what the fleet strength there would be considered, but keep in mind all of these ships are goddamn massive.

We do see a few of them (notably the Executor) go boom, but even as the Death Star II is destroyed there was no doubt some fleet left over.  This fleet had two options: fight to the death and inflict as much collateral as possible against the rebels; or to run and get the rest of the fleet.

“Darth Vader…I want it to be known in my living will that if we are to die, the Empire should acquiesce to all of the Rebel Alliance’s demands. This is my last wish.”

You see, the key here is that the Imperial Navy is goddamn huge.  It is doubtful that their entire fleet was present at this battle.  In fact, this is probably just one task force within a fleet.  Consider that the Emperor expected the Death Star II to be shielded for the entire time and that it was operational.  That, alone, meant he wouldn’t need the whole fleet, as the Death Star could easily dispatch the Rebels.

So after Palpatine and Vader go down, you still have massive fleets roving the stars with no central hierarchy anymore.  Additionally, the rest of these people in power are just plain old people, sans the force, which means there could be additional power struggles afterwards.

In one of the few times I’ll mention the EU, I’ll take note of the way they handled the galaxy post-Endor.  That is to say, numerous admirals and high-ranking officers within the Imperial Fleet formed a couple splinter Imperial factions.  It took the NewRepublica long time to finally take everyone down.  In the end, an Imperial general with a hell of a lot of foresight, Pellaeon, brokered peace with theNewRepublic.

The reason I bring in that part of the EU is because it illustrates my point better than I could without the example.  That said, the EU isn’t G-canon and we don’t know that is actually what happened.

Indeed, the Rebellion would face an uphill battle, as some planets would no doubt change allegiance right away.  There were no doubt, however, many planets that would stay aligned with the Imperials.  The Rebellion would have to face a difficult decision there: conquer those planets (in the name of freedom) or allow the Empire to exist and the war to continue on.

Keep in mind that the Empire is huge and galaxy-wide.  They no doubt had countless other fleets and supporters.  Taking down the head may leave them disorganized, but it certainly doesn’t leave them any less capable of inflicting pain or defending themselves.

In Closing

Seriously, why would a planet on which the Imperial presence consists of a few stormtroopers looking for droids celebrate this hard?

You see, the Rebellion, for all that Lucas did to portray them as heroic, had no foresight.  They launched a campaign against the Empire with almost no popular support (as evidenced by their numbers), with little idea of what they actually wanted or why, and finally with no plan as to what was going to happen afterwards.

Indeed, the power vacuum left by the Rebellion’s destruction of the Death Star II and the deaths of the two Sith would be so significant that I cannot imagine the Rebellion successfully uniting the galaxy ever again.

Instead, I would imagine a galaxy in which the two major players are the Rebels and the remains of the Empire.  Beyond that, however, I’d imagine every powerful mercenary band, criminal cartel and planet with a decent fleet would declare itself a sovereign nation.  While the Rebels may call that freedom, without the Empire (or some central, governing body) the Galaxy would no doubt face endless border conflicts that would not be resolved until somebody had the will to re-conquer the entire galaxy.

The galaxy the Rebels want sounds more like lawlessness and anarchy than freedom.

Was the Empire Really So Bad? Part 2

Welcome back readers.  I apologize for the long time before this post, and I hope you’ll read the post above about the coming changes to my schedule/format.  But, now back to defending the Galactic Empire, or as I call it, Star Wars’ whipping boy.

The Galaxy Is in a Bad Neighborhood

Let’s get this out of the way now: the Empire did build a massive and mobile battle station capable of destroying planets—aptly named the Death Star—and they did use it.  I’ll talk about that at the end of this post.  I want to make clear now I don’t hope to completely defend it, but rather put it in context.

Han Solo - Lovable Crack Dealer

Han Solo – Lovable Crack Dealer

Anyway, problem is that we, as humans stuck on this planet, could not possibly understand the scale on which political struggles in Star Wars take place.  Galaxies are huge, and with the Empire basically in control of fully half of that galaxy—with some presence on the Outer Rim planets, though not full control—you face problems that are far removed from ones with which we are familiar.

But to the sub-titular issue at hand: the galaxy is a bad neighborhood.  It’s clear that gangsters, cartels and criminals are thriving.  Han makes reference to the Kessel Run and shamelessly admits he’s a smuggler.  Consider that again, if you will.  Han Solo—one of the main protagonists of the original trilogy, as well eventually a General in the Rebel Alliance was previously a smuggler.  What did he smuggle?  Why, he smuggled spice, a psychotropic drug.

Imagine if you would an organization in our world who promoted to the rank of General a man who used to make his living on smuggling cocaine into the United States.  Because that is, essentially, what happened with Han Solo.  Now, one of the main character arcs is that Solo never really wanted that life, and that he was in debt to Jabba the Hutt, etc.  I get it, he’s a guy with a heart of gold.  Except that said heart of gold never had a problem with smuggling illegal drugs, and then joins up with a terrorist band.

But the real question is, in a galaxy where a General of the Rebel Alliance is getting your kids hooked on space drugs, who is trying to keep said space drugs out of their hands?  The Empire.  Yah, the bad guys we want destroyed were responsible for Solo’s debt to Jabba.  Solo repeatedly points out in A New Hope that he was boarded by Imperials, and as a result he spaced the shipment.

Space Scamps

The misfit crew of murderers, drug dealers and kids who got caught up in the wrong crowd.

In fact, when Solo, Luke and Kenobi are in the cantina in Mos Eisley they draw attention from Imperial troops after Kenobi maims a man and Solo murders someone.  Those troopers weren’t there to persecute solo, they were there because there were reports of a Jedi (who everyone thought were gone) maiming people and then a smuggler murdering a bounty hunter.  Nobody was wrongfully accused here.  Even if Kenobi was just defending Luke, who knows if the Stormtroopers coming into the Cantina wouldn’t have said to him “Hey, that’s understandable, you just helped us apprehend a wanted man.  Good job, guys!”

Which by the way, given the events of Revenge of the Sith, I’m guessing the Jedi weren’t particularly well-liked among the general populace.  Palpatine played them off as traitorous and potentially dangerous to everyone’s safety.  Way to go, Ben Kenobi, you’ve just managed to only do more to convince people that Jedi are dangerous.  But I digress.

To recap: the main reason the Empire is portrayed as evil, beyond the obvious, is because they’re chasing after Luke (who has stolen data in the form of two droids), Kenobi (who is a renegade Jedi), and Solo (who is a smuggler).  We’re supposed to think this unlikely band of allies, with all of their foibles, has the best interest of the galaxy at heart.  I don’t know that I’d agree with that.

The Galaxy Might Need a Harsh Government; It Definitely Needs Some Government

Conference in SPACE

“Hey guys, I was just telling Vader how a giant planet-killing space station is way more fearsome than choking our enemies one-by-aggggggggh.”

I mentioned earlier in this post that we cannot comprehend the scale of the Galaxy.  I understand that some people might view this argument as a cop-out, but I think that what you have to realize is when you’re talking about innumerable citizens, things change a little bit.

America has a representative democracy, which we feel does a good job of governing us.  It (generally) takes into account what the general population wants and works off of that.  If something is wildly unpopular publicly, it probably won’t gain traction at the national level as any kind of law.  We like that we have a voice, and I’d generally agree that I’d rather not live under a dictatorship.

However, in America we have a problem with the fragmentation of our populace.  Half the country disagrees with the other half.  On the level of millions that’s not too difficult to deal with.  We have lots of news programs and other media outlets that hope to sway people to their way of thinking.  But look back to the inefficacy of the Old Republic and tell me what was wrong with that system of government at this level.

In case you’re not sure, the answer I’m looking for is: “after untold generations, that form of representative government failed miserably.”

The thing is, when you have so many different viewpoints—keep in mind this isn’t just humans numbering in trillions, but countless alien species as well—and trillions of people to keep happy, it‘s not a stretch of the imagination that representative forms of government would be weaker.

Sometimes I like to think of this scene as Palpatine just being mad because the Rebels were stepping all over his lawn.

I understand this argument might seem weak, but consider that a galaxy this big, with this many sentient species and all the dangers I highlighted might need a stronger military presence than that we’re normally used to.  In fact, the biggest support for this argument is how horribly the Republic failed.  In its last years, the Republic’s weakness is precisely what allowed someone to take control and lead toward the path of dictatorship.

Imagine, if you would, a contentious issue where instead of two political parties (as we’re used to in America) we have countless political and moral views that differ quite a bit.  Trying to talk it out in the senate is going to be useless.  Eventually, perhaps, someone has to step in and say “this is what we need to do”.  Not everybody may love it, but otherwise you end up in the situation you had with the Republic–stalemates in the Galactic Senate.

That said, the Empire is portrayed as slightly amoral, but that is only ever shown at the top levels.  For example, in the very first scenes of A New Hope we learn that the Galactic Senate had just been disbanded.  Wait…what?  The same Galactic Senate that had existed in the era of the Republic was still around?

Now, you might argue that he did so in order to more firmly control the galaxy.  But at the same time, the Rebellion was in full swing at this time and from the comments Vader made (and the fact that Leia was using her diplomatic status as a cover for her seditious acts) it would appear that Palpatine only did so to help quell the Rebellion.

Defending the Destruction of Alderaan

Galactic Population

Galactic Population. Kinda scary how many people there are.

One question I haven’t dealt with is the Death Star.  You could use the whole “Clerks Argument” that Luke is a mass murderer himself for destroying the first Death Star and that Lando is equally bad for the second one.  I don‘t take that stance.  Instead, I’d like to suggest, for example, that the Death Star’s destruction—given the scale of the galaxy—is minute and irrelevant.

This is the only part where I’ll probably refer to the EU at all, but there’s no way around it.  EU sources estimate the galaxy at having about 20 million sentient species in about 180 billion star systems.  A rough estimate suggests about 100 quadrillion beings based upon those numbers.  For some scope, that’s 100 with 15 zeroes afterwards.  That is 14,618,800 times the population of earth.

The population of Alderaan at the time of its destruction was about 1.97 billion people.  Given the overall galactic population, the population of Alderaan was at the time a paltry .00000197% of the galactic populace. Let’s think of that destruction in terms of equivalent death of population here on earth.  Out of about 6.8 billion people on Earth, killing a proportional amount would equal, get this, 135 human lives.

Compared to another weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, the Death Star pales in comparison.  The death toll at Nagasaki (which is considered to be conservative due to deaths from radiation, issues counting, etc) was estimated at 150,000. That means that America dropping that bomb—which keep in mind did kill civilians—was 1111 times more destructive (in scale) than the use of the Death Star.

Considering that the use of the Death Star was that “fear will keep them in line”, it makes sense that the Empire would have to demonstrate this power.  Even then, I doubt that the fear of the Death Star really motivated a ton of people.  It is, as far as weapons of mass destruction, pretty bad.  It takes forever to deploy (the time it took to orbit Yavin and get Yavin 4 in sight was enough for it to be destroyed), it is huge and slow-moving which makes it visible from very far away.  Most of all, it (probably) cost an absurd amount of money and even destroying a planet, is not the best way to go.  Orbital bombardment of a planet would be cheaper, easier and just as destructive.

Death Star

The Death Star, ultimate symbol of power and waste.

The Death Star is, more than anything, a symbol.  It is a symbol in the same way that the atomic bomb was.  It was the ace up the Empire’s sleeve, in that anybody who might want to perform terrorist acts would face the wrath of the Death Star.

Now, it’s easy to talk about this in a detached manner because Alderaan is a fictional planet.  Don’t get me wrong, extinguishing almost two billion lives with one shot is pretty terrible.   But when you consider that the demonstration was meant to keep rebellious planets in line—and there was no doubt that Alderaan was one of the rebellious planets—it was a small-scale demonstration of the power of the Death Star.  It can snub entire populations, but losing 2 billion people versus the scale of the galaxy is a footnote, not a tragedy.

Again, it’s easy to think this way because we are detached from it—as it is fiction—but consider again thatAmerica’s use of nuclear weapons exterminated way more of the known population than the Death Star.

Anyway, friends, that is it for this installment.  Look for the third installment where I look to skewer the Rebel Alliance in almost every way possible!

Was the Empire Really So Bad? Part 1: The Galactic Republic Was Awful

April 27, 2012 1 comment

First, I’d like to take this time to apologize for not posting anything for almost this entire week.  While I have plenty of material, I’ve been busy outside of this and found myself unable to post daily as I had previously.  For that reason I’m looking at moving toward a more rigid schedule for posting so it is easier for all of you to follow this.  I’ll give more details on that as they come about.

Anyway, anybody who knows me is well aware that I’m a huge sci-fi fan.  They will also know that I think the Galactic Empire in Star Wars got a bad rap, mostly because any time Star Wars comes up I stand up for them.  In line with my “over-thinking everything” mantra, I’ve given a lot of thought to the fact that the Galactic Empire really wasn’t as bad as it was supposed to seem.  This is a multi-part argument, and it’s not perfect.

In reality, it’s a deep look at Star Wars’ forms of governments and our assumptions about them, framed by the overarching them that the Galactic Empire wasn’t as bad as we were supposed to think.

So, in what is the first part of this multi-part series, I’m going to spend a bit of time laying the groundwork for the argument in terms of some of the assumptions necessary to the arguments.

The Assumptions

The Star Wars universe is a large and complex one.  While casual fans will know the original trilogy (Episodes IV through VI) and the prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III), there is much more to the universe.  There are hundreds of books, comics, video games and other sources of information in the Star Wars canon.

EU

There may be plenty of great parts of the EU--The Old Republic, many of the video games and books--but anything that can produce this doesn't deserve serious scrutiny. I mean, really.

With any discussion of Star Wars comes the necessary discussion about what part of the universe you’re taking on.  For the purposes of this series, I will be using what is known as G-canon (or George Lucas canon).  G-canon is, to quote from Wookieepedia, “the six Episodes and anything directly provided to Lucas Licensing by Lucas (including unpublished production knows from him or his production department that are never seen by the public).”  In other words, I’m going to ignore the Extended Universe (EU) of Star Wars.  Any reference to the EU is more for knowledge sake than being relevant to my arguments.

Hardcore fans of Star Wars may question this decision and question my argument for the sheer fact that I’m excluding a wealth of source material.

The thing is that the six episodes of Star Wars paint the universe in terms of a very well-defined black-and-white morality.  You are either good or bad, and if you’re listed as bad in George Lucas’ universe there is no reason to question the assumption.  The EU authors have to work within this universe, and often their works have no grey areas, either.

With that in mind, much of the EU taking place in the same time period of the movies ends up with authors trying to show the Empire being evil and the Rebels being heroic.  Because Lucas never felt it necessary to explain why the Empire was evil, these authors have elaborated upon it in terms of policies accepting of atrocities beyond the destruction of Alderaan and policies of xenophobia.

I hope that explains why it looks like I am ignoring sources that contradict my claims.  As far as George Lucas intended it, there was nothing shown beyond what is in the films to indicate the way the Empire ruled.  Any additions to the expanded universe that work as “evidence” of the Empire’s evil nature is really just trying to justify unexplained claims made within the movies.

The Galactic Republic Was Shitty

With my assumptions laid out, I’d like to start with the beginning of The Phantom Menace.  Say what you want about The Phantom Menace, specifically about the inclusion of all the politics in it, but those boring senate scenes do at least give us some insight into what exactly happened in the Galactic Republic before Palpatine took over.

Which is to say: precisely jack shit.

The Galactic Senate chambers. If our history is any indication, there were countless fistfights on the floor of the Senate over the millennia.

The entire point of The Phantom Menace was how inept and ineffective the Senate actually was at getting to the bottom of the problems facing its member planets.  People were being murdered on Naboo—and those who weren’t being murdered were being starved—and the Senate felt that the best solution was to form a committee.

This government was, at that point in time, run by corrupt bureaucrats with no interest in the people they served.  It’s a plot point that is outright stated numerous times—George Lucas never was particularly subtle—and that directly led to the downfall of the Republic.

By the time we get to Attack of the Clones some serious shit had gone down and the galaxy was in a state of civil war.  The fact that the Separatists broke off meant that the Republic was failing to some extent and people felt there had to be a better way. Nonetheless, they would never have seceded from the Republic had they not felt that there were unaddressed grievances.  And what was the Republic’s answer to people who disagree with the way they do things?  They started a war.

Palpatine

Why would you guys ever trust him? His last name is the same as Emperor Palpatine. Plus he just looks evil.

Granted, the whole point here is that Palpatine was subtly (or not) manipulating both sides toward war.  But, even with those influences out of the picture, we can assume there were enough grievances that these Separatists felt were unaddressed to justify their secession.  It is highly unlike that Palpatine, skilled politician as he was (because George Lucas made the characters tell us, repeatedly), could have caused their secession for no reason.

Let there be no doubt in your mind, then, that there had to be issues.  Consider all the scenes within the Senate’s chambers and how utterly massive that room was.  Then, take a quick glance at the room and notice how many separate species were present.  Within the same country we cannot get our citizenry to agree on some issues that are relatively simple.  This Republic was expected to rule over its constituency when said constituents were hundreds, if not thousands, of different species.

What’s most amazing about the Republic is how long it had supposedly existed before the events of the films; it’s stated that it existed for countless generations, the entire time presumably while settling the differences of its member species in a reasonably fair manner.  Whatever it was that changed, the Senate clearly went from a body that was able to take action to a group of alien species standing in a room while holding their collective dicks.

But back to the war.  The Republic, again, decided that the answer to people who disagree with their way of life is to start a war, for which there was a conveniently mass-produced clone army.  Of course, nobody really asked why it was necessary, but it is stated that before the clones there was no standing army.  This begs the question: how did the Republic defend itself in the past?  After all, without some kind of military, how can the Republic maintain order and peace from both inside and outside the Republic?

The Jedi Council is about as useful as the UN at keeping peace. Plus, they put an 18 year within their ranks. Aren't there Jedi far more deserving of a spot in that room than Anakin?

The Jedi, apparently, are the answer to this.  But given how easily the Jedi are mowed down by regular ‘ol clone troopers in Revenge of the Sith, it’s hard to imagine that they could serve as the only military force of the Republic.  While I have always had mixed feelings about the military, even I can admit that the thought of existing without a military is like putting a sign that says “freeGalacticRepublic – inquire within”.

Also, nobody seems to have an issue with the clone army.  Seriously.  I mean, I think Obi-Wan questions it for a second, but then its like he never even bothered.  The ethical issues with the clone army alone should be enough to give you pause about the way the Republic works.   After all, these are all clones of a dangerous bounty hunter who are specifically bred to become killing machines.  Beyond that, they were genetically manipulated to age to maturity more quickly and to support the Republic unwaveringly.  Riddle me this: on an ethical level, how are these soldiers any better or worse than the people seen serving in the Galactic Empire?

It’s also interesting that there is no mention in the G-canon of any kind of police force.  It’s implied that the Jedi are the police, but then they are also called upon the serve as a military force.  I think history has shown that when your military and police are the same, you’re kind of in trouble.

The logical conclusion to the Galactic Republic.

What all of this means is that it was only a matter of time before the Republic fell and something else rose to take its place.  The logical choice of the citizens of the galaxy would be a government that was two things the Republic was not: first, capable of taking swift, decisive action to address everyday issues; second, capable of defending its citizens from any threat.  The result was the Galactic Empire.

When Padme comments in Revenge of the Sith that liberty ends with thunderous applause, did it not occur to her that maybe the people knew that they were accepting a dictatorship, but figured it had to be a hell of a lot better than the Republic?  Also, when Palpatine comments that the Jedi rebelled against him and attacked him, nobody in the senate was particularly shocked.  I take that as an indicator that the Jedi were at the very least not a big part of everyday life and, at the worst, widely disliked.  After all, if the Jedi had a public image as peacekeepers and defenders of justice and truth, don’t you think someone would have openly questioned Palpatine’s assertion that they had turned on him? Considering the way Lucas portrays them in the prequel trilogy, it’s no surprise.  They’re condescending asses who sit up in their (ivory?) tower hoping they can think problems away.

Any form of government that can be brought down by this kid probably kind of deserved it, anyway.

Now, I know that there is that saying along the lines of “those who give up liberty for security deserve neither”, and in our world based upon our ethics, I’d totally agree.  However, when you’re talking about ruling on the galactic scale, in terms of trillions upon trillions of people, it’s a different ball game.  I am not arguing that more people justifies military dictatorships, at least not directly.  But I am arguing that perhaps a system of government like a republic is not suitable when you are trying to bridge the gap between thousands of species on countless planets.

I don’t think any of you are dumb.  So I doubt you’re sitting there asking “how the hell does this mean the Empire is better”.  But an important part of realizing that the Empire got a bad deal in how they were portrayed is to recognize the ways in which the Republic was generally terrible (read: many).   The Republic was rife with corruption, had no feasible way to defend itself from threats (except for the highly unethical clone troopers) and apparently left so much of its citizenry disenchanted with its aims that they felt no other recourse than to secede. I don’t intend on making my argument by solely saying that the Galactic Empire is bad, but the Republic was worse.  I think there is genuine evidence that the Empire did more good than bad, but looking at the Republic can give you an idea of how disillusioned the galactic citizenry probably was.

Look for the next part of the series, entitled The Empire Is in a Bad Neighborhood.