Despite the winter rains and gusty February winds, fans of comics, sci-fi and fantasy crowded into the Moscone Center in San Francisco for Wonder-Con. The spacious and drafty Hall A was the setting for Steve Sansweet to present some of what’s coming in the world of Star Wars. What follows is a partial transcript of the hour-long presentation, divided into three parts. The first deals with The Force Unleashed.
Steve Sansweet: Good afternoon! Let me take you a little back in history, to 1983. An exhausted George Lucas gave a long interview to TIME magazine on the occasion of the release of Return of the Jedi, and he was asked the inevitable question: What’s next for Star Wars?
In his reply, though it was a little ambiguous, sent shudders through a lot of fans. What did he say? He said: “I look upon the three Star Wars films as chapters in one book. Now the book is finished and I’ve put it on the shelf.”
What? Did that mean no more Star Wars films ever? Well, for a decade or so it seemed that way. For most people, including retailers, Star Wars was out of sight and out of mind. Every now and then there would be these rumors that George had secretly filmed a new Star Wars movie and that it was going to be announced any day now.
So how delighted were we when George Lucas indeed confirmed and made it official he’d be revisiting the Star Wars galaxy with the backstory, called them prequels, and we only had a few years to wait.
Well, fast-forward to 2005, with the amazing conclusion of the saga, Revenge of the Sith. But it was a triumph that was twinged with a little bit of sadness, because we had witnessed the last Star Wars theatrical movie ever. We knew that because George said so. Well, perhaps under his breath he really said, “the last live-action Star Wars movie.”
So three years later, right on cue, Star Wars is coming back to the theaters in an animated feature film and then the story will continue in weekly television episodes that are more cinematic than anything we have ever seen before. So once again, Star Wars fans everywhere have great cause for celebration. Our kind of celebration. We’ve done it before, and we’re about to do it again. Take a look.
Video Rolls: A recap of Star Wars Celebrations past, including the 1976 convention circuit, Celebrations I, II, III and IV and Celebration Europe, and finally a title card that announces: Star Wars Celebration Japan.
SS: Japan! Yes I’m thrilled to make the announcement here today that we’re ending our Star Wars 30th anniversary world tour in Japan, where the first Star Wars movie opened on June 24, 1978, and I can tell you that we are really excited to be going. The convention is going to be July 19-21 at a convention center outside of Tokyo, and we’re planning for some truly amazing things. Details about the convention can be found at StarWars.com.
This is going to be an amazing years of two sagas that spring from George Lucas’ fertile imagination. First up for Star Wars is the next chapter in the saga, something that will put you right inside the story. Of course, I’m talking about LucasArts’ most exciting game to date, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Let’s take a look at the latest trailer for the game.
Video Rolls: The Force Unleashed trailer.
SS: And now it’s my pleasure to introduce an old friend, a former editor of the Star Wars Insider, and assistant producer on The Force Unleashed, Brett Rector. Tell us, what are the basics of The Force Unleashed?
Brett Rector: Well, basically you play as Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, and it’s all about over-the-top Force powers. Anything and everything you can imagine that we can do in video games, we’re going to try to do with this game. So, it takes place between Episodes III and IV, we’re going to be a little vague right now as to exactly when, so that’s the time period so you’re going to see a lot of familiar faces.
SS: Do you really get to pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky?
BR: Yes you do. That’s one of the seminal moments of the game. It’s really cool right now. I think you guys are really going to dig it.
SS: The Force powers seem so over-the-top. It’s not quite what you see in the movies. How do you justify that, or explain that?
BR: Basically, early on in the project, we looked at the very first Clone Wars cartoon and saw how they were dealing with Force powers. Because it is a video game, George allows us to do these things with the medium. He understands. He’s a savvy person. He understands that we really need to take these things to 11 to really pay off on that. It’s not breaking continuity; it’s just a new way of envisioning Force powers. And it’s a lot more fun for the game. You guys are really going to dig it.
SS: Give us an update on exactly how The Force Unleashed is coming along at this stage.
BR: We patched our Alpha Stage right before Christmas.
SS: What exactly is an Alpha Stage?
BR: It’s where we have code and content complete and no major bugs are in the system. Right now — I just came in from work, the whole team’s there –optimizing, bug fixing. We really want to deliver on this game for you guys, the fans, and it’s something that we’re really proud of. So it’s coming along great.
SS: It is. They walked me through it, some of the game play, about two weeks ago. I’m not a huge gamer. I don’t have a lot of time to game, but I got to tell you, I was blown away by it. It really is exciting. You really do become part of the Star Wars galaxy. How heavily was George involved in the creation of the game? In the story of the game?
BR: He was very closely involved in the very beginning, especially as far as what characters we could use. The continuity of the game. He really wanted things to fit in nicely with what was going on. He didn’t want anything too outside the realm of Star Wars. He was trying to rein us in and giving us comments like, there should be 20 percent comedy and there should be a love interest. So, we have PROXY and Juno…
SS: Who’s PROXY?
BR: PROXY is the apprentice’s droid sidekick.
SS: Waitasecond. PROXY is a love interest?
BR: Well… depending on what program you run. No. No, Juno Eclipse is the love interest.
SS: How come a video game was chosen over some other form of entertainment for this next chapter in the saga, between III and IV.
BR: I think that with the rising popularity… video games are so mainstream right now. I think everyone has at least one console in their house whether it’s an Atari 2600 or a PS3. With the new hardware these days we can actually present a movie-like experience to the audience, to the consumer. Even more, you get to participate in that experience. You don’t just get to sit back and watch Anakin use Force powers. You’re playing his apprentice and you’re using Force powers.
SS: One of the reasons the game has been a little delayed, as I understand it, is that there two or three new technologies that all are done by different companies that have to be merged because everything touches everything else. Do you want to explain a little of that?
BR: Basically with new hardware you always have to build a new tool-set.. So to develop for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, not only do we have to have a new rendering engine, we also want to add these new technologies. One is Pixelux, which is Digital Molecular Matter or DMM, and the other is Euphoria, which is Natural Motion. Pixelux allows us to create realistic tables, chairs, buildings, structures made out of wood, cement, glass, whatever. And we can create these things where you can make these things break in real-time realistically so it’s not just a canned animation, it’s something unique every time. And the same applies to Euphoria, with Natural Motion. It’s kind of a BioMechanical AI.
SS: So it’s actually the characters –
BR: Yes, the characters are going to move uniquely. They’ll reach out and actually, stormtroopers will grab one another and hold on to … I’m sure some of you saw the Penny Arcade…
SS: “Love Among the Troopers.”
BR: I’m sure you guys liked that one. That’s posted all over the office. So, it’s a way to imbue the characters with life-like qualities and a more realistic experience.
SS: One of the things that impressed me was the hugeness of the environments.
BR: The environment art in this game is incredible, especially the open air environments. They’re huge sprawling landscapes, and we’re able to imagine these landscapes as we could in a movie, and we can present them as such.
SS: Why don’t we show them the gameplay? You want to describe what we see in the first clip.
BR: The first clip is the XBox 360 version. You’re in the TIE fighter construction facility. It’s your first mission. Vader’s ordered you to go find a Jedi Master and hunt him down and dispense of him, and along the way, you’re supposed to leave no witnesses. So you’re going to notice the apprentice killing stormtroopers as well as the other insurgents. That’s why he’s turning on his own here, because Vader doesn’t even want the Emperor to know of you.
SS: Let’s take a look.
Video clip rolls: The Force Unleashed gameplay.
SS: Wow. That’s actual game play.
BR: Actual game play. That’s right.
SS: So, are we going to see any familiar faces in the game?
BR: Yeah, we have a few since we’re so close, right after Episode III and near Episode IV, so you’ll see we have Shaak Ti in the game. Vader of course…
SS: The Jedi who couldn’t be killed.
BR: THat’s right. And we get to kill her.
SS: Well, it’s a game. You never know how it’s going to turn out.
BR: Princess Leia. Bail Organa. A few guest surprises here and there.
SS: How about the locations? Any we’re going to recognize.
BR: We’ve got Kashyyyk and Felucia from Episode III, and a little moon or space station called the Death Star may make an appearance…
SS: A lot of people are very interested in the Wii and the lightsaber action. Is this the game they’ve been waiting for?
BR: Basically we’re releasing on pretty much every platform this summer. So PS3, Xbox360, the DS, the PSP, the PS2, and the Wii. The Wii game is going to follow closely what our game is, so it’s not a lightsaber game per se, but we consider the lightsaber to be a Force power, so it is The Force Unleashed, so that will be part of the gameplay mechanic. And what makes the Wii great is that you will use the nunchuck to use Force-powers, and the regular controller to swing and manipulate the lightsaber. And it will also play nicely into the two-player duel matches that we’ll have on the Wii so you can battle a friend. We’ll probably have some Expanded Universe characters in that version, it’s coming along great.
SS: Can you share any secrets with us?
BR: Secrets? We have secrets at Lucasfilm? We disclose everything, Steve! I don’t know how many of you people saw the Vanity Fair, but it made an allusion to the fact that you can play as Darth Vader. And yes, you will in fact be able to play as Darth Vader in the first level so it’s kind of a way to get the player into the game and using all the Force powers. He’ll move the way you expect Vader to move. He’s not going to run. He’s going to walk very briskly. We have continuity in mind. We’re all fans on the team, and Haden Blackman, the Project Lead, is really steering us in the right direction, so yeah. Vader is going to move like you would expect Vader to move. It’s great.
SS: We have one more clip of the game to show. Which is this one?
BR: This is the junk planet Raxus Prime, which is an expanded universe planet, and you’ve been sent to dispatch the Jedi Master Kazdan Paratus, who is another unique character in the game. He’s kind of this… he has the ability through the Force to manipulate junk and create junk golems. So you kind of battle a bunch of junk golems and you face off against him in the final battle. He’s a little stir crazy where he talks to himself and his junk…
SS: Much like you at your desk.
BR: Yeah, I think Haden got inspiration from me at night staring out the window. And you might even catch a glimpse of some junk Jedi. He’s pretty neurotic.
SS: Why don’t we take a look.
Video Rolls: The Force Unleashed gameplay on Raxus Prime.
SS: Very cool. Brett, thank you very much.
BR: My pleasure. Thank you very much, everybody.