Sunday, January 24, 2016

The People vs. George Lucas (2011)

I first became aware of this when I was just bopping around on YouTube one night and came across an interview with the director, Alexandre Philippe. I can't recall who was doing the interview but, after having seen it, I know it wasn't the one that Red Letter Media did since this was an audio interview. In any case, the title intrigued me, and when I listened to the interview, I became all the more interested and wanted to see this film, especially since it was a documentary that seemed bound to happen at some point given how much this subject has been talked and argued about. I'm actually surprised that it took this long to become a reality. I can't recall exactly when it was that I watched that interview but I know that it was long before the film finally got released on DVD in October of 2011, during which my interest remained piqued but I also wondered when it would come out. I finally bought the DVD in the spring of 2012 at a Barnes & Noble and was very eager to watch it, along with another documentary I bought there, Best Worst Movie. When I did watch it, I came out thinking that it was a well put-together, researched, and informed debate on the subject and, despite what others may feel, did a good job at showing both sides of the various issues. I really enjoyed the passion a lot of the participants had for both Star Wars and George Lucas as a filmmaker in general (although some I feel were getting much more worked up than they should) and felt that they were both entertaining and informative about their opinions on the various topics. However, I don't think the film is perfect. I feel that there are both some aspects that the filmmakers focused too much time on and some sides of the issue that they could have addressed that they either don't or just skim the surface on (looking at it in more detail for this review, I think there are some missed opportunities here and there. But, on the whole, it is a well-done film not only about this subject but at how fandoms begin ultimately because, despite their current status, they're deeply touched and inspired by what they love.

Judging from interviews and from his commentary on the DVD, Alexandre O. Philippe seems like a really cool and interesting guy. Even though he's a life-long Star Wars fan and, like so many others, is unhappy with a lot of the stuff that George Lucas has done over the years, particularly the special editions of the original trilogy, he took a balanced approach with this film that I like. Instead of making it a complete Lucas bash-a-thon, which many people wish that it was, especially in regards to its ending, he decided to approach it like a courtcase and show both sides of the argument (hence the title). There is a lot of much deserved negativity heaped onto Lucas throughout but there are also arguments that in some cases, the fans themselves are as much, perhaps even more, to blame, as well as an exploration about how it must affect Lucas to have unintentionally created such a global phenomenon. Ultimately, it talks about how much love there is for Lucas' work and what he's done for filmmaking as a whole as well as the frustration with a lot of his decisions he's made from the late 90's onwards, which I think was a good way to go about it. If it had just been, "Fuck George Lucas," left and right throughout, I don't think it would have been as interesting or, more importantly, as true. Documentaries and short films are what Philippe specializes in and, looking at his filmography, some of his other work does catch one's attention simply through the title. The one I recognized the most was Doc of the Dead, which is on the impact zombie movies have had on the culture but, from what I can gather, doesn't break any new ground on the subject and talks about stuff you've heard a million times before. The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus was a title that really made my eyebrow go up but I can't find much info on what it's about other than an octopus that somehow made some accurate predictions during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. At this time, he's currently working on a documentary called 78/52 that, although I don't know its topic, will involve people like Danny Elfman, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Elijah Wood, but what I'm really interested in is the announcement that there will be a follow-up to this film that will talk about what's happened with Star Wars in the years since this, particularly the purchase of LucasFilm and the franchise by Disney, and the impact it'll have on the future (which I was originally planning on discussing here in context of this film).

There are so many people who are interviewed here that I couldn't possibly talk about them all without going on and on and on, which I can already tell this review is probably going to do, so I'll just mention those who really stood out to me. One of my two favorites is John Venzon, the editor of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, because he's both entertaining and energetic, talking about the conflicting emotions he had when he first saw the special edition of A New Hope and how it's hard to get around the idea that George Lucas himself is the "suit" to blame for how bad and disappointing many of the films have turned out, as well as informative, using his editing knowledge to go into just how some of the edits to the special editions were done. The other guy who I really like is Todd Hanson, the editor of the Onion, because of how chill and laid back he is and, like Venzon, how he's also very informative, talking about the impact of the original film as well as how quickly he switched from thinking The Phantom Menace would be beloved to reviled when he really thought about it. I also like how he said he tried to admit to himself that he was enjoying that movie, that all he needed was a, "big, dumb movie about space wizards," but that was quite difficult to do because of Jar Jar Binks. I also really like Michael Cornacchia and Mark Reilly, the guys behind Star Wars in 30 Minutes. I think they're really funny, with my favorite moments being when they're talking about the new scene with Jabba the Hutt in the special edition of A New Hope is really bad and how it made Jabba feel like a joke, as well as when they describe fan reaction to the title The Phantom Menace, especially Reilly when he says, "Everybody went, 'Y--- what the fuck does that mean?!'" New Zealand comedian Jarred Christmas has some nice moments, like when he says that the constant flow of Star Wars merchandise and the fans being drained of all their money is like Lucas giving them a handjob and trying to get more juice out and when he describes Jar Jar as a big pin that pops a Star Wars balloon that you had. TV host and producer Nar Williams' funniest moment is when he describes how, when The Phantom Menace began, he had a glow in his heart that, as the movie went on, descended down into his stomach and just sat, as well as when it didn't grow on him with the inevitable second viewing, saying, "That was a bummer, dude. That was a fuckin' bummer." Chris Gore comes across as one of those who fans who's into Star Wars a lot more than he should be, talking about how you'd think it would be easy to just get off of buying the toys and such, but I still find him funny when he says he feels like he's in therapy talking about it. And finally, there's author Neil Gaiman, whom I like because he has a very balanced viewpoint on the whole issue with the prequels, saying that fans want a copy of the last thing they saw and liked and that while fan-edits are nothing wrong, fans don't have the right to force creators of the things they love to do or remove whatever they want.

There aren't that many people in this film who I can say I don't like at all. I like comedian Richard Sandling's energy, but he doesn't contribute much other than acting like an over-excited fan. I don't hate Derek Ambrosi but, when he's talking about how he'll buy anything that says Star Wars on it and that's a contract for the stuff to continue to be of quality, I just kind of roll my eyes and think, "Give me a break." There are some moments where Nar Williams is having an argument with a woman named Boo Friedman about the concept of "midichlorians" and she gets really worked up about it and later talks about how the prequels destroyed her childhood. I'll get more into that later on but that's something that I always get sick of hearing from pissed off fans. (Although, it was funny during that former debate when she brought up scientologists and Williams immediately went, "No, stop it! Don't bring the scientologists into this!" That also leads into Chris and Tim Waffle, the two guys who sing the song, George Lucas Raped Our Childhood, which I will also expound upon later. There are a couple of other people I was going to really rake across the coals here but when I thought about it, they're not interviewees, so I can't do that here. When I get to their moments, though...

There are a few people who I think the filmmakers could have gotten a lot more mileage out of, especially since they all have the most firsthand connection to George Lucas. The one I wanted to hear more from is Dale Pollock, the author of the book Skywalking, since he mentions one of what I feel are three of the big key factors of this whole issue and, because of his knowledge about it, could have added a lot more to the real meat of the documentary. Another person I wanted to hear more from was Gary Kurtz, whom Lucas fired from his role of the trilogy's producer after The Empire Strikes Back. Kurtz mentions how the added Jabba the Hutt scene in A New Hope is completely pointless because of the Greedo scene, as well as how the conditions that he, Lucas, and everyone else had to deal with during filming made that original movie what it was, but I wanted to hear him talk about his relationship with Lucas fell apart after Empire and how he feels about what happened after his departure. In the extended interview on the DVD, he talks a bit about some conflicts between Lucas and Irvin Kershner, which leads into my feeling he was really the only person who worked very closely with Lucas who would talk about the apparent flaws of his personality and attitude but they missed that opportunity by not interviewing him more. And finally, the guy who is talked with the least, which is a real shame, is Dave Prowse. While Kurtz may have been willing to talk about some of Lucas' personal flaws, Prowse is the only person with firsthand experience who would possibly out and out bash the guy. The animosity that he has for Lucas is so bad that I've read the two of them can't be at the same convention together, which makes me want to see an interview where he rips him a new one. Maybe he did and they felt it would be too extreme for the doc itself (you can tell from the brief bit where he talks about merchandising raising its ugly head around Return of the Jedi that he has some bitterness towards the whole thing) but I would have loved to have seen it even as an extra on the DVD. I just can't help but find that kind of stuff amusing.

The score that runs throughout the film is pretty generic and only serves as a means to keep a feeling of life in the background while the participants are talking rather than just dead air, although the cartoonish, silly piece that plays during the animated opening sequence is quite memorable and puts a smile on my face. What's more memorable about the movie music-wise are the songs featured throughout it, some of which are pretty catchy. My personal favorite is David Heinzman's The George Lucas Song, which is a parody of Moskau. I really like the sound and beat of it and, even though I don't understand what's being said, I think I have a pretty good idea (plus, I like the, "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha," moment). Dear George Lucas by UFO Phil, which closes out the movie, is another memorable one because it comes across as a heartfelt love letter to the man, acknowledging his burnout over Star Wars and the like, and offering to help him continue the saga. It's another thing in this documentary that makes me smile. As I said, I'll comment more on George Lucas Raped Our Childhood presently but, just from a purely musical standpoint, I'm not a big fan of that song. The beat and the lyrics don't do it for me. I feel the same way about Ian Bonds' Death Star, which you hear only the first couple of lyrics of during the third chapter of the film, although listening to the whole thing on YouTube, I do smirk at how it's a musical critique of the problems with the prequels and is peppered with comments by Yoda throughout. Yellow Lasers by MC Fontalot has a pretty cool, laid back but constant sound to it, whereas I thought John Williams Is The Man, no matter what version, was just kind of silly. It was an interesting idea to sing about Star Wars to the melody of the Indiana Jones theme but that's all I took from it and as a result, I'm glad they only showed it once.

This is the first time I've ever reviewed a documentary and, when I began preparing for this, I realized that I had to approach this differently from the way I tackle other films. This is going to be akin to the way I do TV shows and video games in that, now that I've touched on the general aspects of it, I'm going to go through documentary, hit upon each of the major discussions and points made, and give my own two cents on them, as well as mention things they should have gone more in-depth on and others that they could have done differently. One thing I have to mention, though, is that, when I did my personal introduction to Star Wars before I reviewed the movies themselves way back when, I devoted a section of that post talking about what I personally think of George Lucas and the controversies surrounding him, so if you've read that, you're going to be getting a big sense of deja vu throughout this. Hopefully it won't be too bad since this is an opportunity for me to go into much more depth than I could in that introduction. Also, this might not be one of my most visually interesting reviews since I can't keep using images of people sitting down and talking to emphasize whatever the point of a given section is, although I will do my best to find images, from the many interesting and memorable ones that this film provides, that are relevant to the subject at hand. Now, with that out of the way, let's dive into the real meat of this review.

One thing I really love is how the opening credits sequence shows the evolution (or, if you like, deterioration) of the fanbase's relationship with George Lucas. Following a brief opening that sets up the whole issue, showing a bit of Star Wars' everlasting cultural impact as well as already giving us example of issues people have with Lucas, namely by showing Jon Stewart whaling on him about the ending of Revenge of the Sith, we get a little animated sequence that shows a cartoon caricature of Lucas walking around and projecting his various movies to a slowly growing and ever more enthusiastic crowd behind him. THX-1138 garners some interest, American Graffiti gets a little more, and Star Wars has the crowd jumping up and exclaiming before picking Lucas up, carrying him on their shoulders, and putting him on a throne where he's hailed as a king. We then see a thought bubble of himself frollicking through a field with a caricature of Steven Spielberg... when an explosion in the distance causes a refrigerator to land in front of them (I know, subtle). A vague figure steps out of the fridge and runs off, followed by a panicked Lucas, while Spielberg stands there looking confused. He's then caught up by an angry mob who run after Lucas with the stereotypical pitchforks and the like, as we finally get the title. That's how you start a film.

After a small introduction that touches on how Star Wars, among other things, caused a creative spark in people everywhere, prompting many of them to want to not only watch the movies but make them, as well as how it encompasses people from all walks of life, the documentary begins with a little bit on George Lucas' backstory, mainly told by the man himself from past interviews. This first part touches on two of the three significant notions that I feel are key to understanding the issue at the core of the documentary. The first, which isn't emphasized as much as the other two, is that when Lucas discovered film, he was interested in stuff that were visually-driven rather than story-driven, such as cinema verite documentaries. In an old interview, Lucas describes his student films at USC as "visual exercises," and that he had just recently begun to, "say things," with his films. I'm going to put that away for now but keep that in mind because it will come back down the road. The second, which is what Dale Pollock elaborates on, is how Lucas felt completely beaten down by the studio system when THX-1138 and American Graffiti were recut and was determined from then on to have complete control over his work. Lucas even tells Charlie Rose in an interview that they use that he had to figure out how to manipulate the system, which is, "designed to tear you down." That leads into the creation and release of Star Wars, which no one thought would be a success but becomes the biggest movie of all time at that point and a massive cultural touchstone, leading to him being hailed as a genius. This extends right down to the marketing, which everybody who was around in 1977 remembers fondly, right down to the unique smell the toys and other merchandise apparently had. This merchandise aspect will also come back later on but for now, it's only shown as another memorable aspect of Star Wars' ongoing, multi-generational legacy.

Now, we get into the third major point, which is the idea that Star Wars became participatory culture once kids started playing with the toys and creating their own stories with them. This leads into the notion of people wanting to play in this universe that Lucas created and make up their own stories and characters in that universe, most notably through fan-films. There are just as many shots from fan films throughout this documentary as there are interview clips, maybe even more, and they are used as a means to further illustrate the endless inspiration the saga gives so many people. While it is cool to see and I do think a number of them are quite creative, like the stop-motion one that you see pictured here, those animated ones that are surprisingly well-done, and well-known ones like Troops (I saw that as a young kid on a Sci-Fi Channel special back in the day), I think the film spends a little too much time talking about them in this part. I don't mind seeing the clips in order to provide emphasis for various subjects in the other sections, like fans' reaction to the special editions and the hatred for Jar Jar Binks, but I think their very existence and diversity is focused on here long past the point where the significance was hammered home. As nice as it was to see that somebody loved something so much that they were compelled to redo it shot-for-shot with no money at all, I really don't think it was necessary to focus so much on that complete recreation of Raider of the Lost Ark, right down to how long it took to do, particularly since Indiana Jones isn't part of this discussion except for a little bit of talk on Kingdom of the Crystal Skull near the end. But I digress. If you take this notion of participatory culture and juxtapose it with Lucas' overriding desire to have control of his work without anyone tampering with it, I think you can see how they're going to eventually collide.

The hate towards Lucas begins in the second chapter with the release of the special editions, which many didn't expect to be so radically different from the movies they grew up with, and the documentary mainly focuses on the changes made to the original film, specifically the Jabba the Hutt scene and the notorious one between Han Solo and Greedo. The latter is what gets a whole lot of attention and discussion, with some arguing that complaining about is a major nitpick whereas others feel that it changes the core of Han's character and softens it up. There's some suggestions that Lucas may have done this because he was a different man in the 90's and, now that he was older and had children, he saw Han out-and-out blasting Greedo as being rather violent and brutal (which I don't agree with since Greedo had him at gunpoint and was talking like he was about to kill him) but the more important issue that this part of the film gets down to is the notion that Lucas is basically trying to rewrite history. Since he was never satisfied with the original versions, and they play an audio clip of him saying that, he's trying to redo them in the way he wanted to way back when, regardless of the fact that there's an entire generation of fans who love those original versions and now feel like he's being force-fed someone else's memories. What's more, he's also determined to replace the original versions with the special editions, saying in an article that they'll disappear and that the special editions will be what everyone remembers, a quote that they do show. They also briefly discuss LucasFilm's claim that the original negatives were permanently altered to create the special editions and discuss whether or not that's true or even possible. I'm not at all savvy about this type of stuff, so I don't if either side of the discussion holds water, but I will say, that knowing what we know about Lucas and the attitude he's displayed time and time again, I wouldn't put it past him to do that if it were possible. And as they say, it makes Lucas look like a major hypocrite since he went on a crusade against Ted Turner for wanting to colorize black and white films back in the 80's, as if he's so blinded by his determinator to have his way that he doesn't realize or care how bad it makes him look (one guy who hears about that for the first time says, "That makes me just want to say, 'Fuck him all the way,'").

I've said this many times before but my first major exposure to Star Wars was the special editions, so I don't have the nostalgia for the unaltered versions that so many others do, but I do agree with the notion that Lucas should not be barring people to see them. I don't have a problem with his actual tinkering as so many others do. It makes him look very obsessive-compulsive and I agree with the person who said that sometimes you have to realize that the work is done and that it belongs to history, but whatever. He has every right to do what he wants with them. However, trying to erase those original versions is very narrow-minded and selfish on his part for a number of other reasons. Not only is it disrespectful to the fans who grew up with them, it's also like Lucas doesn't understand that these versions, as imperfect as they are in his eyes, are what made him who he is and gave him the means to make anything he wanted (an opportunity I don't think he took advantage of as much as he should have but we'll get to that in due time). More significantly, adding the digital enhancements to the practical effects in the special editions and then making those the only versions you can see is very disrespectful to the model-makers and craftsmen who busted their asses to create them. As they say here, film is a collaborative medium and Lucas' obsession with complete control often causes him to forget that. So, as to the ultimate question that's put forth about whether something as significant as Star Wars belongs to its creator or to the public, I agree with Michael Cornacchia in that it's shared. Dale Pollock notes how Lucas may not like the idea of everyone feeling that they own his art but I would say to him, "Well, sorry man, but this is what happens when you put your art out there and people fall in love, despite the imperfections that you may see."

That notion that Pollock brings up leads into something that I wish they had touched on a lot more: how Lucas seems to take delight in trolling the fans. Kevin Rubio, the man behind Troops who went on to write an episode for The Clone Wars TV show, spends most of the documentary defending Lucas, saying that he's a big proponent for the fans and that he's encouraged people to "play in his sandbox," and another person says that Lucas has been more gracious to the fans than they've been tolerant of him, but I kind of disagree on that because there are instances where Lucas comes across as either snippy towards fans or determined to anger them. In some instances, he may have right to not be thrilled with the fans, but there are many where it's way out of line and the documentary doesn't go into that. The only real mention of it comes in the following chapter where they talk about how he seems to be antagonizing them having Jar Jar look right at the camera and smile at one point in Episode II and that's it. They could have gone into so much more, like the inclusion of Jar Jar during the ending of Return of the Jedi in the 2004 DVD version, which he had to have known wouldn't go over well, or his rather dismissive and petulant attitude towards a fan at a convention about the unaltered versions, saying, "Grow up. These are my movies, not yours." (I don't know if that incident had happened yet when this documentary was made but if so, I think it would have been something worth mentioning.) I think the biggest example could be when he did release the unaltered versions of the original trilogy on DVD (which they never mention at all except when Jay Sylvester, the creator of originaltrilogy.com, reads a PR response he got from LucasFilm about these versions, which led into the discussion about the negatives being altered), and when he was asked why he didn't remaster the picture and sound, he sternly said something to the effect of, "They're lucky I gave it to them at all." That is so telling and shows a major sense of animosity that Lucas has towards the fans, and they don't mention it at all. It's like they were worried that they were making Lucas look bad enough as it is and were afraid to say any more, but if the guy does have some negative aspects to his personality, he should be called out on it since it is relevant to the conversation and would add another side to the center of the issue and the topic of this second chapter in particular. For God's sake, he's wearing a HAN SHOT FIRST T-shirt in that image! Do I have to say more?

I think I used this image back in my Star Wars introduction
but I had to use it again because I think it sums up
perfectly what he's become to a lot of people.
Talk of the special editions and how they're possibly a business decision rather than an artistic one leads into a discussion that could have had its own chapter: in the years since Star Wars, Lucas went from being a filmmaker to a corporate entity and a businessman. It's said that the film's enormous success was, in a way, the worst thing that could have happened to him, a notion that's emphasized with a clip of Lucas telling Charlie Rose that it took over his life and was an opportunity he couldn't pass up, as well as an archival interview of Francis Ford Coppola mentioning how the success didn't lead to the independence that Lucas wanted and how he never directed another movie afterward (I'm sure that interview was done before the prequels were announced). Now, I read in the book A Brief Guide to Star Wars that, after he had checked himself into the hospital when he felt chest pains during the original film's turbulent post-production, Lucas decided right then that he would never direct another movie since it wasn't worth the stress but, regardless, this section does make a good point about how Lucas went from being a very independent filmmaker who wanted nothing to do with corporate Hollywood to, ironically, running a corporation himself. The conversation leads into the constant influx of Star Wars merchandise that's been going on in the decades since the original film and, while I can't fault the guy for seeing a quick and easy to attain wealth by taking control of it himself, I do agree with the notion that's disheartening to see someone like him become the very thing he didn't want to be, a notion that Lucas himself isn't blind to. However, we now get into Star Wars "addicts": people who buy every single bit of merchandise related to that franchise and complain about how they don't have enough money and living space to keep up with the ongoing stream of it. This is also where Derek Ambrosi talks about his compulsion to buy anything Star Wars-related and how that's a contract for it to keep being of quality, which he says isn't the case anymore. Now, I'm a fan of a lot of things and I've bought a lot of stuff related to them but I've never felt the compulsion to buy every... single... item related to it that comes out, except for when I was a naive little kid who just had to have everything. These are adults who are acting like Lucas is forcing them to buy anything he puts out, no matter what it is. There's even a woman who blames Lucas and his merchandise for ruining her life and her relationship with her family! Lady, you're the one who chose to buy all that junk! Lucas had nothing to do with it. Maybe it is like an addiction to drugs and since I've never experienced it, I don't understand it, but I'd think these people would be smart enough to understand that they have a choice to buy this stuff or not, especially since it's not vital goods like food and clothing.

The part where I get a lot of sadistic pleasure is during the first bit of the third chapter, where it talks about the overwhelming hype and build-up to the release of The Phantom Menace. You have people paying just to see the trailer, the countdown to the opening day, those people standing in line for weeks (I especially like that one guy who had a sign that read, I WILL GET TICKETS. IT IS MY DESTINY), and the actual countdown to the hour when it will be released. My favorite moment is when a bunch of people are asked what they will do if the movie sucks and a lot of them come across as very determined that there's no way it could suck, with two guys getting into a debate about it (a friend who shall remain nameless but I know will be reading this was one of those people who knew in his gut that this movie would be the greatest thing since sliced bread), and all the while, I'm sitting there with a big, shit-eating grin on my face. It gets even better when it's time and everyone is so excited, with one guy exclaiming, "Star Wars! We're gonna see Star Wars!", and the cheering when the movie starts coupled with the sight of those glowing, multi-colored lightsabers swinging in the dark. And then, as everyone says, the movie started, and that buzz died very quickly. People then went to see it twice to try to convince themselves that they liked it (one guy said he saw it in the theater like 18 times, which makes me wonder what kind of time he had on his hands back then) and only then did it truly sink in that this wasn't what they were expecting, nor what they wanted. If the fans didn't already have a lot of animosity for Lucas after the special editions, they certainly did now.

For all of you Jar Jar haters, you'll be happy to know that he gets positively evicerated in this section, not only from criticism by fans but also in the form of fan-films of toys getting sawed in half and burned, animations of his severed head in Lucas' bed, and so on. There's even an entire song lamenting how much he sucks. I have no problem with people who don't like Jar Jar and I do understand that he can be quite annoying, but that said, the sheer brutality and hatred in all of those fan-films can't be good for the world's karma. Lord, guys, chill out! And yet, what's really surprising is that all of the hate is counter-balanced by affection, not just from young kids who think Jar Jar is funny but also from adult film-viewers. There are a couple of Frenchmen who say that they think Jar Jar is proof that Lucas still intends to take risks in his filmmaking, with one of them commenting that, as a fan of burlesque, he likes the juxtaposition of the scene at the breakfast table where Qui-Gon is talking some very serious matters while Jar Jar is snatching some fruit with his tongue. Going back to the kids, it's talked about whether Jar Jar is a cartoon character invading a "serious" universe or if Lucas all along intended for these movies to be made for kids. Moreover, they talk about the possibility of it being a generational thing, that a big part of the first generation of fans were kids when they saw the original movies and that Lucas, instead of making it for all of them who were now adults, made it for the next generation of kids. I don't know if I agree with that, though, because nothing in the original trilogy, not even the Ewoks, was as over-the-top as the cartoony, potty humor in The Phantom Menace, and as they say here, if it was meant for kids, how are they supposed to follow the complex, political side of the story that not even most adults can? I don't have an answer for this question except to say that I find Lucas' statement that Jar Jar's existence is because the movies are made for kids is either complete or just plain condescending, especially given the original trilogy, which all ages enjoy. (They do also touch on midi-chlorians but I'm not going to get into that debate since it's only a small part of the bigger issue and also because a lot of these people are acting as if the Force is a real thing that has now been tarnished.)

While we're on the subject of the prequels, I'd like to take the opportunity to vent about something that you see a little bit of in this section. During some footage at some sort of convention in Texas, a guy at a podium asks if anyone there likes the prequels and when somebody off-camera does clap, he yells, "Shut up! You're wrong." In addition, you have Simon Pegg yelling at a little kid over his love for Jar Jar Binks, and while I know very well that that wasn't real and I acknowledge that the guy in the former footage didn't act like a complete dick, this is indicative of something I really get tired of. As I've made clear ever since I've been doing this blog, I hate judgmental assholes who give other people shit for what they like or don't like and when I read or hear about old-school Star Wars fans treating people who have the audacity to like the prequels as if they're lepers, it infuriates me to no end. I especially got mad when, around the time leading up to The Force Awakens, I read some real statements that Pegg said about him having no respect whatsoever for people who like the prequels, which made me say, "Well, fuck you, you asshole." I just don't understand this compulsion to shit on people for getting joy out of something that you don't like, as if the very fact that it happens is a threat to you. What I'm getting at is, you like what you like and you should let other people like what they like as well, and if anybody gets pissed at me over this or tries to say that I'm "part of the problem," you can kiss my ass because you're not changing my mind. Okay, rant over. Let's get back to the review.

The thing about the prequels in my opinion, which is not explicitly stated in the film itself, is that, since he had complete creative control over them, they are, despite all their faults, quite possibly the movies that Lucas wanted to make (some may have felt that they were intended to simply piss the fans off but I don't buy that at all). I think it's just a case of his mind being so dead-set on doing them his way that he was oblivious to or, rather, just didn't care about how the fans may have felt about them (and if you look at some of the changes in the special editions juxtaposed with the prequels, I think it's fairly clear that these are the types of movies Lucas likes to do). The discussion about how Lucas has a reached a point where he is beyond any sort of criticism and refuses to allow for collaboration of any kind, which is punctuated by interviews where he himself says that he's earned this right and that's what makes it enjoyable for him. There are some, such as Neil Gaiman and cartoonist Bill Plympton, who seem to agree with that sentiment, with the former commenting on how fans always want more of the same and the latter talking about how he only does stuff that he likes and won't take advice from anybody. On the one hand, I do agree that you should just do what makes you happy and not worry about what anyone else thinks of it but, as others bring up, Lucas' decision to do the prequels with no input at all from anybody around him makes it kind of meaningless for him to have this big, movie-making empire at his disposal, especially since that's what helped make the original trilogy so great. I think his obsession with having complete control over his work, coupled with how he felt he didn't get to do everything he wanted in the original trilogy due to time, money, and technological constraints, as well as his admitted disdain for how those movies originally turned out, makes him lose sight of that. So, it's a tough issue, and not one that's easily answered since what it ultimately comes down to the major aspects of Lucas' own personality.

Lucas' obsession for complete creative control and his unwillingness to listen to anybody is another topic that I think could have been talked about a lot more, especially with the people who have either worked with him or have met him. Like I said earlier, Gary Kurtz mentions in an extended part of his interview on the bonus features of the DVD how Lucas and Irvin Kershner butted heads over this issue on The Empire Strikes Back, which I think they could have included in the actual film, and I think they also could have had him talk about what happened between Lucas and John Dykstra over the effects in the original Star Wars and why he himself was replaced as producer on Return of the Jedi. Speaking of Jedi, you could also discuss the idea that the reason Lucas hired Richard Marquand to direct that film was because, since he was a little known director, he would be more willing to bend to his will, in addition to the fact that he was much more personally involved with it than he was with Empire. Given his disdain for that film and the notion that that's where Lucas began to become obsessed with commercialization, this could be where you'd have Dave Prowse really go off on Lucas, as well as mention how, in that documentary on The Phantom Menace, some of the people on the movie appear flabbergasted about what Lucas is expecting them to do but don't speak up about it at all, possibly out of fear. There's an ILM budget meeting shown in that documentary where Lucas is being very shrewd, saying, "I don't care how we get this done, I don't care who pays for it, I've somehow got to get my movie made," again with worried looks on the faces of the people at the table with him. You could talk about that, as well as mention a bizarre disagreement between some folks about the casting of Anakin there that never comes up again, and take the opportunity to touch on how Rick McCallum has been accused of being the biggest yes-man Lucas had working for him during that time. I once read that something happened during production of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles where a man who had a minor disagreement with Lucas arrived at work the next day to find that he no longer had a parking space. There is so much stuff you could talk about in regards to this topic, especially with Kurtz and Dale Pollock, the latter of whom mentions how he held the ideas for the prequels in his head for far too long, that they don't take advantage of.

Fan-edits, mainly whether or not they're acceptable, are discussed for a bit, which is when Neil Gaiman makes his well-balanced comment on them that I mentioned earlier. More significantly, though, it's mentioned how they go all the way back to Lucas' issue with keeping other people from tampering with his work and that they probably cut into him the deepest. This extends into an idea that people want to put their fingerprints all over the things that they have affection for, which is demonstrated with a video of a fan talking about how he feels the ending of Revenge of the Sith could have been handled so much better than it was. I'm not gonna at all act like it's wrong for him to do that because I give my own ideas about how things would have been better in my opinion in just about every review that I do. So, I'm as guilty of wanting to put my fingerprints over stuff that I see like everyone else. Ultimately, though, no conclusion is made in this discussion, with one man suggesting that the fans are going to have to accept Lucas' control over Star Wars for the time being while another says that, as our culture becomes even more participatory, he's going to have to eventually gives the fans more control. This is where you get Kevin Rubio arguing that Lucas is the biggest proponent of the fans, citing that he holds a contest for fan-films and the like, and the notion that he's more gracious to them than they've been tolerant of him, which, if you remember from earlier, I don't completely agree with. The section ends with the idea that, for a guy who's very controlling over his creations, he made a serious blunder about it early on with the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special, which he's always said he wished he could completely destroy every copy of. The content of the special, particularly that weird as hell section where the grandpa wookie is watching what can only be described as a virtual sex fantasy, is talked about very briefly, but what they do get to is that Lucas isn't as all-controlling as he'd like to be.

The final part of the film begins with how a number of fans have either walked away from Star Wars completely or are now filled with venom for both it and George Lucas. You have videos of people ranting about he must atone for his mistakes, with one guy going as far as to tell him walk off a short bridge and yell that his movies are the worst shit imaginable. This is where George Lucas Raped Our Childhood comes along, which is the kind of stuff that really gets on nerves. I agree with Kevin Rubio: nobody raped your childhood. Did you buy the toys? Did you watch the movies again and again? Do you still have fond memories of that time in your life? Well then, nobody can take that away from you, least of all George Lucas. It's why I don't agree with the idea that Lucas (and Steven Spielberg, although he doesn't get mentioned hardly at all) raped Indiana Jones with the fourth movie. Putting aside the fact that I personally like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I don't understand how that destroys all of the warm memories one would have for the original movies. If you don't like it, then don't think about it and just continue watching the ones that you do like.

The parallel between Lucas' life and career and the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, one that Lucas himself comments on in an interview that they show, is mentioned, with the idea that the saga is kind of autobiographical in a sense given that you can look at Luke in the original film as Lucas as a young man in how he's desperate to escape the nothing planet that he lives on, just like how Lucas wanted to get out of the little town of Modesto. Most significantly, though, is how Lucas always strove to stay independent of the corporate Hollywood system, having once told his father that he would never be a businessman like him, and yet, eventually found himself as the head of his own corporation, similar to how Anakin tried to be a great Jedi but fell to the Dark Side. A lot of the disdain for Lucas does come from that concept, that the fans originally admired him for fighting the establishment and then, he became the establishment himself, causing a lot of conflicting feelings on their part. Plus, I don't think it's a coincidence that he created the three movies that the fans love when he was a true "rebel" and the ones they loathe once he had built his "empire" and had everything at his fingertips. It's one of the most dynamic instances of life imitating art that I can think of.

So, to sum up my own personal opinion of George Lucas, as the people in this documentary do (with Todd Hanson describing him as a big, bloated billionaire with the soul of an idealistic hippie, a little, alienated kid who used to tinker with things within that, all in the middle of a gigantic corporation), I think he was a shy, socially awkward kid who discovered filmmaking and wanted to make experimental films but found that he couldn't tolerate the control of the Hollywood system, so he became determined to do things his way and succeeded in a way far grander than he ever could have imagined. That gigantic success, however, took over his life and he felt compelled to do nothing but spectacle films like Indiana Jones and especially Star Wars, as they mention here, all the while still trying to exert complete control over them and not let anyone else mess with them. This single-mindedness led to him unwittingly alienating and, in other instances, acting like a complete douche towards the generations of fans and devotees who felt that they had a right to these stories and characters just as much as he did, and when he decided to continue the Star Wars saga, it led to him making movies that he wanted to see but very few others wanted to. And in the greatest ironies, his success ultimately led to him becoming the very thing he wanted nothing to do with, which has to torture him in many respects. He's quite a complex person when you get right down to it and all of this must really pressure him. That doesn't excuse the really dumb decisions he's made and the numerous instances of questionable behavior and judgement, mind you, but, on the whole, I can't help but feel some sympathy for the guy and for the position he's been in since 1977.

There are many people who feel that the documentary's conclusion was a major letdown in that the filmmakers didn't completely crucify Lucas but I feel that it comes down what your personal opinion is. If you absolutely despise the man, then you're going to be really irritated by the ending because it will look like they wimped out but, if you're like me and you do have some sympathy and admiration for the man, despite all of the admitted downsides to him, you will agree with what it all comes down to, which is that Lucas does deserve some merit and respect. He has inspired a good number of people and there's no denying that he does and has always had talent... just not in writing dialogue or in directing actors that well. And as is stated, there wouldn't be so much ire for the ill-advised stuff that he's done if there wasn't love for his work in the first place. Many can't look past the contempt they now have for Lucas and will probably despise him for the rest of their lives but, in addition, there are others who still have a lot of affection or, at the very least, admiration for what he has accomplished in his lifetime and are able to hold onto that, despite the inexcusable things he's also done. Hopefully, now that Disney is the one behind Star Wars, Lucas will be able to let go of his major control issues with it and go on to make those experimental films he's always wanted to make and he's said he now intends to do. (It might be wishful thinking given his history, in particular when he said he intended to do that after Revenge of the Sith, which never came to pass, but, hey, you never know.) So, my two cents on the whole issue is that, while the fans do have a lot of things to be angry at Lucas for, it's important not to lose sight of why he was once and, in some circles, still is respected and loved.

The People vs. George Lucas is a very interesting and entertaining documentary. It's both informative and funny, serves as a great discussion about the relationship between artists and their admirers, many of the participants are energetic and easy to like, there are many good points made throughout, and it manages to keep the conversation well-balanced rather than letting it devolve into a one-side attack (as some people think it is). It's not perfect, given that I feel that it spends a bit too much time on the phenomena of fan films, as impressive many of them are, there are some other aspects of the equation that they either don't mention at all or only scratch the surface on, and, even though it was necessary to show it, it does sometimes revell in the most negative aspects of fandom. Speaking of which, I'm really hoping I don't get a lot of mean-spirited flack for my opinions here given how volatile this fanbase. I don't mind you not agreeing with me; I just ask that you not act like an asshole about it. In any case, despite its flaws, I do recommend this film if you're at all a Star Wars fan or, at the very least, have an interest in this kind of subject.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stuff I Grew Up With/Video Game Corner: Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998)

All kids have tried to find where their Christmas presents are hidden before they're wrapped and put under the tree but I don't how many have been so desperate to know what they got that they actually ripped a little bit of the wrapping paper away. When it came to this game, though, that's exactly what I did. This was one of the games that I put on my list for Mom during the Christmas season of 1998 and I was so excited and desperate to play it that I did rip a little bit of the paper so I could make sure that she had gotten it. As it turned out, I picked the correct game box-shaped present to peek at and saw that I did indeed now have this game, which made me all the more excited. After telling Mom that the wrapping paper had ripped by itself (which I don't think she bought at all), I waited eagerly for Christmas to roll around and when it did, Rogue Squadron turned out to be only one of a number of great games I got that year, with others including Banjo-Kazooie, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, and Yoshi's Story. I'm sure that this was the first game that I played that day since I was so eager and while I wasn't disappointed with it at all, it didn't take me long to realize that this game was going to bring me a lot of pain as well as joy. I'm ashamed to admit that I was one of those kids who threw angry, screaming tantrums when I started losing a game again and again and this is one of the ones that really pissed me off. Star Wars games, in general, are well known for their difficulty, but while Shadows of the Empire, which was the only other one I'd played up to that point, had some pretty tough levels in and of itself, especially on the higher difficulty-settings, I don't think it holds a candle to Rogue Squadron. This game often becomes absolutely relentless and, in some cases, downright unfair when you get into the thick of it. Some of it has to do with the individual levels and some of it has to do with very dickish programming and designs in general but what it all boils down to is that this game, while good and worth playing overall, is freaking hard!

The main story of the game takes place during the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, with the Rebel Alliance continuing their struggle against the Empire following the destruction of the Death Star. You play as Luke Skywalker and lead Rogue Squadron on a series of various missions that fall into one of four categories: search and destroy, reconnaissance, protection, and rescue (the latter two make up a good chunk of the game). At first, the levels feel rather random and unrelated in terms of an overall story but as the game progresses, you become aware of Moff Seerdon, a ruthless Imperial commander who makes destroying the Alliance and its allies his top priority once you've destroyed a number of his installations and interfered with his operations. What the levels all have in common is that each of them limits you to using one type of aircraft but when you go back to replay them upon completion, you can now choose from a wider selection (for most of them, anyway). Your performance during each level is also measured via statistics such as how long it takes you to complete the mission, how many enemies and Imperial structures you destroy, how accurate your shooting is, how many of your comrades and friendly structures you save, and whether or not you collect hidden bonus items. If you hit certain benchmarks in these statistics, you're awarded with either a bronze, silver, or gold medal that helps promote your rank (the highest I ever got was Colonel but you can as far as Supreme Allied Commander) and can also unlock hidden levels and ships if you win enough of a certain type.

When you start the game, your default ships for each individual level are limited to five Rebel crafts, each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses as well as secondary weapons (mostly proton torpedoes and missiles) in addition to their typical laser blasters, many of which can be upgraded by hidden power-ups you find throughout the game. The one you use most often is the classic X-Wing and it's by far the best and most balanced ship, being very well shielded, able to close its S-foils in order to go faster, and can maneuver pretty well (although, as we'll get into, trying to shoot down a TIE-Interceptor that's on your tail is very challenging with this). It's one of two ships where R2-D2 rides along with you and, very slowly, repairs damage you take, unless he gets fried during the battle and its secondary weapons, proton torpedoes, can be upgraded either to deal twice the damage or home in on their targets thanks to a targeting system (you're still limited to how many you can carry, though). The A-Wing is one of the fastest and most agile ships but its shields are pretty weak and the same goes for its secondary weapon, concussion missiles, although they shoot faster than the X-Wing's proton torpedoes. Like said torpedoes, the missiles can be upragded to become heat-seekers, which are quite deadly when paired with their speed. In contrast, the Y-Wing can take a lot of punishment but it's very slow and not agile in the slightest, which really sucks when you run up against TIEs which, despite the strong shields, can wear you down very quickly if they home in on you. Like the X-Wing, R2 rides along with you and makes repairs, and its secondary weapons include ion cannons that disable a target without destroying it and bombs that you can drop down on ground-based targets like Imperial buildings. The bombs can be upgraded to deal a lot more damage but you have to be careful not to get too close when you drop them because the blast can hurt you as well. The Snow-Speeder from The Empire Strikes Back isn't quite as agile as the A-Wing and it has no shields but it is fairly fast. Needless to say, if you're required to fly it in a mission, you can expect to run into some AT-AT walkers to tie up with the tow cable, which is made easier by the fact that it's the only ship that has two sets of brakes (hit both brake buttons with any other ship and you'll spin around in mid-air). It's also the only one of the five regular ships that can't be upgraded with any other weapons, which really sucks when you're forced to take part in dogfights with TIEs. You don't get to fly the V-Wing for the first time until the final regular mission, which is when you learn that it's really a mixed bag. On the plus side, it's the fastest of the ships, with a booster engine that can really make you go fast, its laser cannons have a rapid fire mode that comes in handy if you need to deal a lot of damage really quickly, and its secondary weapons are cluster missiles that few enemies stand a chance against, especially when they're upgraded to homing. Unfortunately, the ship has no shields whatsoever and the booster engine and rapid-fire cannons overheat if you use them for more than very short bursts, so you really have to know what you have to do when you use this ship (which is why I don't use it that much).

In addition to the five regular ships, there are also several hidden ones that you can access either by winning medals in the three hidden stages or by entering passwords (in the case of the next two, both apply). The Millennium Falcon, as always, is a cool ship and it's nice to be able to have the option to fly it but, as you can probably guess, it's very slow, even more so than the Y-Wing, and the combination with its enormous size makes it an easy target, as well as very cumbersome in navigating around tight corners and narrow spaces. On the plus side, though, its laser guns, like its secondary seeker torpedoes, can auto-target enemies, meaning that you can fly in one direction while shooting down an enemy in a completely different. This makes the Falcon surprisingly efficient in dealing with big hoards of TIEs. Speaking of which, another unlockable craft is a TIE-Interceptor that you're told was captured by during a mission (it's hidden behind the Falcon in the hangar bay, so you have to press up when you've panned over to the Falcon if you want to use it). It's extremely fast, one of the fastest ships in the game, and its laser cannons can really damage an enemy if you get them right in your sights but, like the Snow-Speeder and the V-Wing, it has no shields, so it's not wise to use it during missions where there's a lot of aerial dogfighting involved. Another hidden ship whose presence in the game wasn't revealed until many months after its release is the Naboo Starfighter from The Phantom Menace, which was still deep in production when Rogue Squadron was being developed. LucasFilm allowed the developers to create a playable model of the ship for the game but it could only be unlocked by entering in two separate passwords, which weren't revealed to the public until after The Phantom Menace was released. Even the GameShark couldn't uncover this secret and it's a shame because it's one of the best ships the game as to offer. Its shields aren't that strong but it's very fast and nimble, able to keep up with TIEs with little effort, its laser blasters pack quite a punch (they could be the strongest in the game), as do its seeker torpedoes, and like the X-Wing and Y-Wing, R2-D2 rides along with you to restore any damage you take. It's a really good ship to have at your disposal, which makes it sad that nobody knew about it until many months after the game's release. You can also put in a code to fly a 1969 Buick Electra 225 but it has no function other than being a cute in-joke (I only used it once). In addition, the first of the three bonus levels is the only one where you fly a T-16 Skyhopper, which has no major function except being able to go fairly fast (it does have a laser blaster but, since this level is nothing more than a race, there's no use for it), and there's a bonus stage that you can unlock in order to pilot an AT-ST, although it's slow as molasses, even when you figure out how to make it walk faster than normal, difficult to aim, nearly impossible to turn, and the stage ends once you get blown up, which isn't that easy to avoid given the vehicle's limitations.

One thing that's really interesting about Rogue Squadron is that, even though you do play as Luke Skywalker for 99.9% of the game, and other notable characters, like Wedge Antilles, Crix Madine, and General Riekaan, are very much a part of the game, they're only indicated by their voiceovers and the ships that they fly. In fact, the only images you ever see of them are on the Start and Options menus, most notably in the Character Biographies, which feature still-shots from the movies; otherwise, it's like you're playing as bunch of talking ships! It's really bizarre and I can't think of another game at this moment that approached its characters in such a disconnected way. In any case, I guess this is a good time to comment on the voice acting in the game. Most of it is pretty good, albeit rather straightforward and all business, especially when it comes to General Riekaan's mission debriefings, the level descriptions on the Select menu, and even in a bit of the in-game dialogue. At the same time, though, they do manage to give the characters' their own personalities, with Luke being the authoritative but youthful and energetic leader, Wedge being something of the group's wise-cracker (they gave him a rather prominent Scottish-like accent), and Madine being a less stringent and more loose version of Riekaan. The most noteworthy character is Kasan Moor, an Imperial pilot who joins Rogue Squadron at the end of the fifth mission and uses her knowledge of the Empire's various installations and bases to help the Alliance. You learn that she does this because her home world was Alderaan, which the Death Star blew up in A New Hope, and when you encounter Moff Seerdon for the first time near the end of the game, she shows just how much she's come to destroy the Empire at this point. Besides being the deepest character in the game by far, what also makes Kasan notable is that she's actually voiced by Olivia Hussey, a fact that I wasn't aware of until just recently. I also have to mention that the guy who voices Moff Seerdon is awesomely snooty and cocky in his performance and that the actor who voices Han Solo during his brief bit of dialogue during the fourth mission may not sound at all like Harrison Ford but he captures the attitude really well to me (Chewbacca sounds like he's got a sore throat whenever you hear him howl, though).

There are a number of reasons as to why Rogue Squadron is such a difficult game, as I said in the introduction, and a major one is the enemies, particularly those that you're forced to dogfight up in the sky. The TIE-Fighters and, especially, the Interceptors are the absolute worst due to how fast and agile they are, making it hard to get them within range of your laser blasters, and their small size and fairly dark coloring make them hard to spot, especially in levels that take place at dusk or night. When you're in the midst of a big battle and the air is filled with the screeching sounds they make, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint exactly what height they're flying at (often, it gets so chaotic that I have a tough time figuring if they're above me or below me). But the worst thing of all is their tendency to zero in on you and chase you wherever you go, constantly shooting at you. Their quick and agile nature and the way they fly circles around you makes them almost impossible to get a fix on, especially if you're in a slow ship like a Y-Wing, and they can very easily wear your shields down if you don't shake them. And they get right back on your tail when you respawn after they cause you to crash and absolutely will not stop until either you blow them up or they run your lives down. Instances like this are what caused me to have angry, screaming fits when I was a kid and they're still very, very frustrating. In the last of the regular levels, you're up against a new type of TIE known as the TIE/D, which are automated rather than being piloted by humans. As if the regular TIEs weren't bad enough, these are almost worst due to the fact that, unlike their predecessors, they actually have shields, and their laser blasts seem to be stronger. Fortunately, they're only in this one particular level but they add even more so to the already enormous difficulty factor of that particular mission. The TIE-Bombers aren't dangerous to you per se but they are a major threat to anything that you have to protect since they can easily blow it to bits if they drop enough bombs on it. There are many instances throughout the game where you have to watch for continual groups of Bombers that come in from a certain direction to reign bombs down on a ship or a structure you're ordered to protect. Fortunately, they're the slowest of the TIEs and their greater width makes them easier to spot; the challenge is in simply spotting them before they can destroy their target.

Like any good Star Wars game, you also contend with the classic walkers from the original trilogy. Naturally, the AT-ATs are the toughest and take the longest to defeat since you have to tie them up with the Snow-Speeder's tow cables (like Shadows of the Empire, it is possible to take an AT-AT out by shooting it over 100 times but, more often than not, you're racing against time to defend a ship or a building from them so this slow method is not recommended). Tying them up can be a little tricky since you have to hit the brakes in order to have greater control and balance of your ship, which can take a really long time (it's best to engage one of the brakes while also pressing the ignition button in order to tie one up faster), and the camera angle that you have to do this with can make it difficult to tell how far or how close you are to the AT-AT, which can lead to either the cable snapping or you bumping into the machine and getting thrown off-course. In addition, there are instances where you're forced to tie one up in a narrow, confined stretch of land, forcing you to make sure not to hit the canyon walls as well as watch how close you are to the walker. Worst of all is when another enemy is shooting at you while you're trying to tie one up, causing you to crash right when you almost had it. The AT-STs aren't nearly as tough but they can still be tricky since they take a number of laser blasts to blow up, sometimes forcing you to make two or three passes to put them down, and while some of the Rebel ships' secondary weapons can blow one up in one hit, others can't. What's more, an AT-ST's legs remain after its head is destroyed and those legs can get in your way and cause you to crash if you don't watch where you fly (there's one level where they can interfere with your tying up some AT-ATs behind if you destroy them first). Another type of walker, the AT-PT, appears in this game but it's the weakest out of all three, exploding after only being shot several times. Unfortunately, there's a level where you have to protect a group that are being operated by some Rebel commandoes, making their weak nature a very annoying liability.

Probe droids are one of the least threatening types of enemies, even when they come in big groups, but they're so small that they're hard to spot from a distance and their black paint-job makes them very difficult to see in levels that take at night. More dangerous to deal with are laser turrets that lock onto you when you get into their range and can very easily bring you down if you fly right at them. It's best to go up and down in a pattern in order to throw one off while you shoot at it and if one is perched on a hill or ridge, approaching from as low as possible is best since it can't shoot that low. Some levels have enormous laser towers that are much harder to avoid and take many more hits than the turrets, which only take like four to blow up. Even worse are missile turrets that fire heat-seekers that home in on you about as badly as a TIE-Interceptor and can cause you to crash after only a few hits. More often than not, you hear them lock onto you without knowing where they are and by the time you find them, it's usually too late. It is possible to out-maneuver the missiles but the best course of action is to fly right at a turret and unload your lasers, blowing up any that it shoots and destroying in about as many hits as a laser turret. Imperial tanks can also be a major threat, especially when they come in big groups, as they always seem to. These are what can really mess you up if they attack while you're trying to tie up an AT-AT and they can very easily overwhelm anything you're trying to defend. They don't take that many hits to destroy but, again, their strength is in their numbers. You often see stormtroopers running along the ground like ants, as well as riding the speeder-bikes from Return of the Jedi in a couple of levels, and while you wouldn't think they'd pose that big of a threat, they can damage your ship with their laser guns if you get too close and can kill you if they get enough shots in. (Like the Imperial tanks, they're major pains in the ass when they shoot at you while you're trying to tie up an AT-AT.) You can easily wipe out a big group of them with little effort but, on the whole, they're so insignificant that it's not worth worrying about them unless you're trying to rack up extra hit points in order to get a medal.

Other factors that make this game so difficult include the fact that you only have three lives. And this isn't one of those games that counts the number "zero" as a life, giving you four chances in reality. No, you die or fail a mission three times, it's game over and you have to start the mission from the beginning. This is where the absolute craziness of many of these levels, especially in the latter part of the game, will really get to you and make you think that it's unreasonable to think that you could succeed with only three lives. In fact, this is where I have to make a confession: I never beat this game fairly. One of the last levels is so insane in its difficulty that I had to resort to using a password that gives you "infinite" lives (you'll see why I put that word in quotations down below) in order to succeed. And what's more, the two levels that come after that are even worse, so when I attempted to play them fairly, I didn't last very long. You can call me a cheater if you want but it was the only way that I could experience the whole game. For that matter, getting all of one type of medal on every regular level is so difficult that I had to put in another password that unlocks all of the levels in order to play the bonus ones and, by extension, use others to unlock the Millennium Falcon and the TIE-Interceptor, which can otherwise only be accessed by earning medals on said bonus levels.

Going back to your lives, you can also lose one if you fail a mission rather than simply get killed. The difference is that if you die, the mission is still going and you respawn near where you died, whereas if you fail the mission, you have to do it again. When that first happens, you may initially think that your lives have been reset but nope: you only have either two or one more chance, otherwise you game over and you have to start from scratch anyway. And this is where the infinite lives code becomes not as true as you might think. That code keeps your number of lives at three no matter how many times you die but, if you actually fail a mission, the number will suddenly get bumped down to two. It'll still stay there no matter how many times you die but I think you get where I'm going: if you fail two more times, you still get game over, infinite lives or not. As you might expect, failing a mission usually happens when whatever you're trying to protect is destroyed and the developers did something downright shitty to make that task just a little harder. When you get shot out of the air, you have to wait for your ship to crash and even then, you're forced to wait a few seconds until the "death" music ends. There is no way, that I know of, to skip this and the mission is still going on during those precious seconds you're stuck in limbo, meaning your objective is still being attacked. Given how difficult the game already is and that you're under major pressure to protect the ship or structure anyway, this is an instance of the developers being nothing less than major assholes. And if you're like me in that you hate these types of levels, which make up a good chunk of the game, in general, it makes it even easier to very quickly lose your patience and explode, especially when you get into the really hard levels during the latter half. There's even a password you can put in to make the game harder, which is only for sickos who love a challenge (i.e. not me).

There are other instances where the game itself feels like it's actively trying to screw you over. When you respawn after you die, it can be hard to figure out where you are and reorient yourself since the game tends to drop you either right above or a small distance from where you were shot down. When you manage to topple over an AT-AT, the game will sometimes send you careening out of control when it cuts back to you for no reason. There was one time where I found myself screaming right at the ground and I crashed before I had a chance to get myself under control! I still don't know what went wrong there. The radar in the upper right corner of the screen often points you where you need to go but there are times here and there where it simply forces you to guess where your next mission objective is, sometimes showing you a cinematic of something important happening but not giving you any indication as to where it is, causing you to waste precious time while desperately looking around. And finally, your squad-mates are very little help in battle, often yelling for you to save them while they don't do anything to help you when you're taking a lot of hits or when you've got an enemy on your tail. In fact, when you fly in formation at the beginning of some levels, they can actually get in your way and smack into you! And the voiceovers that admonish you for accidentally shooting them or a civilian target can really work on your nerves since they act as if you did it on purpose.

The game received a lot of kudos for its design and control and it's not hard to see why. Visually, it's one of the most impressive Nintendo 64 games ever, especially when you play it on the system's Expansion Pack. The ships and buildings are all designed very well (the N64 usually had overly polygonal aspects to their graphics but this game manages to avoid that for the most part), the environments look great, especially when a level takes place at dusk or night, and they have nice details to them (if you look carefully at the ground while playing the levels on Tatooine, you can see creatures like Banthas and Dewbacks walking around), and the colors and textures are very pleasing to the eye. The movements of the crafts, especially during the enormous battle and aerial dogfight sequences, are very fluid and energetic and little details like the exhaust flames and R2-D2's head sticking out of the cockpit of a few of the ships add even more to the feeling that you're playing one of the movies. The only real technical flaws I can see in the game are the very static, archaic look to the little characters running around on the ground and how you sometimes run into a boundary you didn't know was there and are forced back where you came but those are minor nitpicks. Some don't like that the game makes use of "distance fog," which was fairly common in games at that time, but there's only one level where I feel the game got really carried away with it; otherwise, it doesn't bother me, nor does the lack of a multiplayer mode. As I've said before, being an only child with very friends who live nearby, whether or not a game has a multiplayer feature has been of little importance to me. (Shadows of the Empire didn't have a multiplayer mode either but I'm guessing that since everybody fell in love with GoldenEye's, it was expected that every game that came later should try to live up to it.) And as I said, the controls are another aspect of the game worthy of praise. They're nicely fluid and responsive, with no issues in getting your ship where you need it to go. Sometimes, though, it feels like no matter how close you get to an enemy, you can't shoot them even if you have them right in your sights, and there are other times where you end up shooting behind what you were targeting, even though you know where you were aiming. Maybe it's just me but those are some weird things that have happened to me while playing this game.

The game's sound design is also noteworthy, although the music is a little odd. It's mainly made up of John Williams' recognizable cues from the original trilogy (the main Star Wars theme, the Imperial March, the themes for the Death Star battle and the battle of Hoth, and so forth), as well as some original music from Chris Hulsbeck, but it's all very synthesized and electronic rather than orchestral, as the music for Shadows of the Empire was, which can really take you aback when you first hear it. It's not bad, mind you, and some of the new music, like the intense, dire theme you hear during really critical missions such as the Raid of Sullust, is very catchy, but it's not the type of sound you usually associate with Star Wars at all. The sound effects, however, are the classic stuff you remember from the movies and they sound really nice (which is interesting since it appears that LucasFilm only allowed the developers to use them in an audio rate that was half the standard one), and the voiceovers are nice, clear, and abundant, rivaling Star Fox 64 in terms of sheer amount and, as Ryan MacDonald of GameSpot noted, making it feel more like a movie.

And now, on to the breakdown of the levels, which are grouped up into several chapters signifying the progression of the story. As we go into the details, you'll really see what I mean when I say that this game can be maddening in its difficulty.

Chapter I: The Rebel Opposition
Ambush at Mos Eisley: As hard as this game gets later on, this first mission is ridiculously easy. First, you have to save some homesteads from groups of Probe Droids, which is no problem at all since your radar will point you in the right direction and the droids can be taken down with only a few laser blasts. Really, the only "challenge" is that you have to search every corner of the various sections to find every droid since they can be easy to miss due to their small size as well as that, if you're going for a medal, you have to take out the droids shooting at the houses before they cost you some "friendly saves" points. Once all of the Probe Droids have been destroyed, you're shown a cinematic of TIE-Bombers attacking Mos Eisley but, again, this isn't that hard as long as you follow your radar and close the S-foils to go even faster. And like I said before, Bombers are the slowest of the TIEs, so it shouldn't be that difficult to blast them before they cause much damage to the town or shoot down your comrades. A deceptively easy start to a game that will become very unforgiving down the line.
Rendezvous on Barkhesh: Here's your first taste of the many "protection" missions you have to take part in throughout the game. Your mission is to protect a convoy carrying vital supplies for the Rebellion that has no choice but to travel through an area controlled by the Empire. You have to clear a path for them by destroying any obstacles in their way, mainly Probe Droids, AT-STs, and laser turrets, but you also have to close to them and protect them from the biggest threat: TIE-Bombers, which will attack at a couple of key locations and can very easily blow the convoy to smithereens if they're not downed. The best strategy is to fly ahead a little bit to destroy any threats that lie along the route and then do a quick flyby back to make sure the vehicles are safe, staying up high in order to spot them most effectively. This mission isn't too hard (even though I failed it the first time I played it), although trying to keep your eyes peeled for the Bombers while trying to keep the path clear for the convoy, as well as the twisting, turning nature of the route, can be a bit nerve-wracking. Although, I must again remind you that this is nothing compared to what the game has in store later.
The Search for the Nonnah: Even though this level is a part of the fairly easy early part of the game, there have been a few times where the odds have gotten the better of me and I've failed. The first part of the mission has you searching for a crashed Rebel ship while dealing with enemies like Prode Droids and TIE-Interceptors here and there. Every time you play the level, the ship will be located in one of three separate corners of the map and the thick fog can make it very easy to get turned around. If you don't find the Nonnah during this early part of the level, you'll get a message that the ship is under attack and your radar will point you in the right direction. Once you arrive at the party, you have to protect the ship, and the rescue shuttle that flies in to evacuate the passengers, from both air and ground-based waves of Imperial forces. An Imperial shuttle lands on the nearby riverbank and deploys an initial wave of AT-STs and laser tanks, followed by some TIE-Bombers swooping in to pound the ship and another wave of ground forces involving AT-PTs and tanks. The ground forces, especially the second wave, aren't that difficult to handle but the Bombers and Interceptors are what pose the greatest threat to the shuttle. The Bombers may be slow but you have to time your attacks perfectly when they swoop in from whichever direction they choose, otherwise the shuttle will take some hits. Also, once you've destroyed the initial pair of Bombers, you have to shoot down the Interceptors that swoop down and fire at the shuttle while not forgetting about the next wave of Bombers and ground forces. And you have to keep in mind that you're flying the weaker A-Wing in your first playthrough, so you have to be cautious when attacking. Finally, when the shuttle lifts off, you have to stay behind it a ways in order to shoot down some more Interceptors that'll come in for one last attempt to destroy it (I've ended up losing the ship during this last, crucial section more often than not by not being able to catch the TIEs in time). Once the shuttle zooms off into the sky, you can breathe easy.
Defection at Corellia: The first snow-speeder level, which should give you an idea of what you're going to be eventually facing, this mission starts off quiet enough with you and your squadron patrolling the outskirts of the city of Corellia where General Riekaan plans to meet with Crix Madine, an Imperial officer who plans to defect to the Rebel Alliance. Only a few seconds in, however, Wedge says that he picking up some strange readings and your radar will point you in the right direction so you can investigate. You find a small valley filled with Probe Droids, which are easy enough to deal with, but once you've destroyed them, you see a cinematic of TIE-Bombers attacking the Corellian Capital Building while Riekaan calls for help. You're then forced to rush back to the city and fight off the Bombers, which can be tricky since these speeders weren't meant for aerial combat and aren't too good at keeping up with the Bombers as they circle around the city in groups for separate bombing runs on the capital, even though they are the slowest of the TIEs. Plus, you have to watch where you're shooting because your blasters can add to the damage of the buildings. Once you've gotten rid of the Bombers, Madine calls and tells you that he's stuck at the Tech Center across from the city, which is also being bombed. I actually got lost and couldn't find the Tech Center the first time I played this game since, one, the TV I had back then had a very poor brightness feature, and two, I was young and not smart enough yet to understand that the radar will tell you where you need to go. In any case, once you arrive at the center, destroying the four Bombers there isn't that difficult, but the minute you're finished with that task, Wedge will tell you that there are more Bombers heading for the city. Fortunately, Han and Chewie come roaring in with the Millennium Falcon to give you a hand, which allows you to concentrate on an even bigger threat: an AT-AT approaching the capital. This first taste of wrapping up the walkers with tow cables isn't that difficult and if you use the best tactics for doing this that I talked about earlier, you should bring it down in no time. Once that done, you can help the others with clearing out the Bombers when Madine calls you back to the Tech Center, which is now under attack from a couple of AT-STs and another AT-AT. The former are closer to the building, so it's best to take them out first and as quickly as possible before going after the AT-AT. One last task is to protect the shuttle that arrives to evacuate Madine from two trios of TIE-Fighters that come in for one last attack. Destroying them isn't that tricky and they're not very difficult to spot before they can land some hits on the shuttle. After they're gone, you can finally catch your breath as the shuttle will then fly off towards the horizon with Madine. (There are other battles going on around the city during this entire level but you must concentrate on your objectives and not worry about them unless you have extra time in-between.)
Liberation of Gerrard V: Here, you provide cover for your new comrade Crix Madine as he leads a group of Y-Wings in disabling Imperial freighters that are looting that are looting two sections of the city of Gerrard V. The first order of business is to destroy the laser and missile turrets in around the first city so the Y-Wings can do their job. The missile turrets along the ridge on the outside of the city are the biggest threat to both of you, so it's best to take them out first before going after the lasers, which are located on top of buildings and on the streets. There are other forces approaching from the outskirts like AT-PTs but they don't pose much of a threat. Once you destroy all of the turrets here, Wedge contacts you with a warning that an elite squadron of TIE-Interceptors is on its way. As he tries to hold them off, you and the others head to the second city through a canyon, destroying missile turrets along the way before repeating what you did at the first city. The biggest threat here is an enormous gun tower on the edge of the city that you must take out as quickly as possible, preferably with your proton torpedoes rather than wasting your time with laser blasts. Once that thing's gone, you once again have to destroy the laser turrets throughout the city and by that point, the Interceptor squadron will arrive. These guys are very fast and agile, so your job is to continue protecting the Y-Wings until they complete their mission rather than shooting down every single Interceptor. And one last big bit of advice: if you're equipped with seeker proton torpedoes, you have to be careful about the Imperial yachts the Y-Wings are trying to disable because your targeting system will lock onto them and if you destroy one, you fail the mission.
Chapter II: Rogue Squadron (lazy much?)
The Jade Moon: If you know what you're doing, this level is both short and surprisingly easy. Again, you're protecting a separate squadron being led by Crix Madine. this time as they attempt to use a fleet of tanks to raid an Imperial storage facility, the location of which was provided by another former Imperial, Kasan Moor. The first objective is to clear a path for Madine's troops towards the facility, destroying some AT-PTs that approach them and then taking out some laser turrets that are located around the base. As you immediately see, the facility is protected by an energy shield and you have to find and destroy the generator. Finding it isn't difficult but getting there can be tricky due to the missile and laser turrets strewn along the way (one of the level's very objectives suggests flying low to avoid taking damage) and the generator itself is guarded by more turrets and an AT-PT, so it's unlikely that you'll come out of this unscathed. Once the generator has been destroyed, a task that could require a couple of passes, Madine's troops will begin moving in but so will more AT-PTs and an army of TIE-Fighters and Bombers. The walkers and the Bombers especially are the biggest threats to the tanks, so you have to go after them first. As before, you have to be sure to shoot down the Bombers as quickly as possible since they can destroy the tanks with little effort. Once they're gone, you can battle the Fighters, which aren't that good at hitting the tanks anyway, until the mission ends. Again, not that hard of a level, although if you're going for a medal, you have to fly off the beaten track to find an obscure building holding a power-up as well as destroy every last enemy you come across.
Imperial Construction Yards: This is where the game begins to stop fooling around and become very difficult. Your mission is to attack an Imperial construction facility responsible for the production of TIEs and walkers but first, you must reach it without being detected. As you fly through the valley leading to the facility, you come across six sensors that you must destroy from a distance since they can very easily detect you. While the first couple aren't that difficult, the others are on the other sides of sharp turns and steep hills, forcing you to really watch your maneuvering in order to get them in your sights and destroy them in time. The fourth one is the worst because it's hidden behind an outcropping that creates a fork and if you take the path off to the right, you'll fly into the sensor's rage and fail the mission. Even when you take the left turn, the curve is still very tight and getting around it to destroy the sensor isn't easy. Once you enter the base, you've still got your work cut out for you because this place is full of enemies, with the biggest threat being groups of TIE-Fighters that come flying down the valley continually and can easily shoot down your unshielded snow-speeder, as well as missile turrets perched on ledges above some of the construction yards. There are a couple of AT-ATs to be found here as well but this is one instance where it's not required to bring them down because once you fly past them, they're no longer a threat and you can concentrate on destroying the construction yards. Basically, all you have to do is find the AT-AT and AT-ST factories and shoot everything you see, leveling the place. While that's not difficult, doing this takes many passes and you have to tangle with the Imperial forces defending each factory (including stormtroopers on the ground), so you have to use some strategy rather than just flying straight in and shooting like a maniac. The AT-AT factory in particular is well-guarded and you come face-to-face with an AT-AT and pairs of missile and laser turrets after coming around a sharp turn. Basically, you have to keep moving and shooting while keeping an eye on your surroundings. The good thing is that if you're going for a medal, this level gives you plenty of targets with which to meet the 80 enemies you need to down, including a landing pad with some parked TIE-Fighters that are easy pickings (hitting the pad adds to your accuracy tally as well).

Assault on Kile II: This is the level where I started to become very frustrated with the game when I was a kid. Your objective here is to destroy an Imperial spaceport hidden within some deep canyons, making this level very similar to the previous one. However, this one can get on your nerves much quicker for a number reasons. One, the twisting, turning canyons you have to navigate in order to find your three targets are very easy to get lost in and, no matter how times I play this level, I always end up turned around somewhere along the line. Two, this is the first level where you have to fly the strong but slow Y-Wing, using its bombs to destroy your targets. And that leads into reason number three: this level is filled with laser and missile turrets, both along the floor of the canyons as well as around and near the spaceport, radar station, and garrisons you must destroy (blowing those up around the former is part of your objective), and TIE-Interceptors. This is the first level where, at certain points, an Interceptor will zero in on you and harass you relentlessly until either you destroy it or it shoots you down and that caused a lot of screaming fits from me when I was eleven (which, in turn, led to my parents yelling at me to be quiet). Trying to get behind a TIE that's tailing you is hard enough with any ship but when you're flying the ungraceful Y-Wing, it's damn near impossible. It's possible that it'll stop chasing you if you get far enough away from it in the canyons but not sure a thing. And I don't think I need to tell you how vulnerable you are to the heat-seekers those missile turrets fire. Really, the only strategy is to keep your cool, get to and from your targets and destroy them as quickly and efficiently as you can, and not waste too much time futilely chasing those TIEs.

Rescue on Kessel: During the previous mission, Wedge gets shot down and captured by the Imperial forces. Now, he's being taken to a prison on the planet of Kessel where he's sure to be executed unless the train transporting him and other prisoners is stopped. This level is very short and the sole objective is simple: use ion cannons that your X-Wing has been outfitted with to disable the train before it reaches the prison. You have to be careful not to hit the train with laser blasters since you can potentially kill Wedge and fail the mission. While it seems simple enough, there are plenty of enemies like laser and missile turrets and AT-STs to give you trouble and the completely flat landscape gives you nowhere to take cover. Even the train itself has laser turrets and you must ionize every single section of it in order to put it out of commission. While parts of the train that have been disabled will have blue electrical energy crackling around them, in the heat and confusion of the action it can be hard to make out, especially if you're a great distance from the train. Your best is to concentrate on the train as much as possible and only take down attacking enemies when you absolutely have to (if you're going for the gold, though, you must destroy every single enemy in the entire level, which requires you to take some detours off the beaten path).

Prisons of Kessel: Wedge may be safe but your business on Kessel is far from over. Now, you have to provide protection for Crix Madine as he leads a mission to rescue the other prisoners being held captive there. While the previous level was short and to the point, this one is long and drawn out as you have to follow Madine's shuttle to four different prisons, protecting it from harm while he and his commandoes get the prisoners out. At the start of the mission when you come to the first prison, you have to take out the laser turrets surrounding the place before heading off to destroy a nearby shield generator that protects all of the prisons, itself heavily protected (you fly past one of the other prisons on the way to the generator, so it's a good idea to try to take out some of the turrets there to make your job easier). Once the generator has been destroyed, you have to quickly head back to the prison and protect Madine's shuttle from TIEs that attack relentlessly until he says that the rescue is complete and heads for the next prison. Each battle of the following prison battles gets harder and harder, with more threats to the shuttle, like approaching AT-STs, that you have to deal with along with the turrets and TIEs. The last prison is the most intense since there's an AT-ST waiting for the shuttle underneath the landing platform, which can make it easy to miss if you fly in without paying attention, in addition to another one on the outskirts as well as more turrets. This is also where the speed and agility of the TIEs can get to you since you're obviously so desperate to keep the shuttle safe at this point, especially if you can pinpoint their altitude, as tends to happen to me here. And even when the rescue is complete and the shuttle is preparing to take off, you still have to keep your eyes peeled for any sneaky TIEs that may try for one last attack.
Chapter III: The New Threat
Battle Above Taloraan: The Empire is attempting to harvest Tibanna gas, a resource that can enhance the potency of their weapons, and it's your mission to foil their operations. This level consists of you flying through a series of floating platforms that are dotted with canisters filled with the gas which you must destroy. The task, however, is not as simple as it sounds. The platforms contain both Imperial and civilian tanks, often shuffled amongst or right next to each other, and you have to watch where you're shooting because destroying too many civilian tanks will cause you to fail the mission. (There's one annoying moment where Kasan Moor admonishes you to check your firing, even if you didn't do anything!) You're also flying the nimble but fairly weak A-Wing and, while the multitudes of TIEs flying around actually don't pose that much of a threat, the laser turrets found on the later platforms can very easily shoot you down. They don't take many shots to destroy but these lasers seem to inflict more damage than those that came before and they're often placed behind civilian tanks, once again forcing you to watch your fire (you must destroy the turrets in order to move on). Like the prisons in the previous level, the difficulty with the floating platforms increases as you go on, with there being a couple of spots where you have to clear out two platforms floating side-by-side and the last being outfitted with missile turrets. Like I said, although there are many TIEs buzzing around here, they're not as big of a threat as you might think and they're mainly just there to distract from your mission, so it's best to ignore them and concentrate on the platforms. You also have to watch out for civilian spaceships that are flying around, especially those that suddenly fly in front of you in a panicked attempt to get out of the TIEs' way, because you can easily run into them or shoot them if you're not careful. There was one time where, after clearing off one of the platforms, I smashed into the bottom of one of those enormous ships called blockade runners and was killed instantly before I knew what happened. (Hilariously, it came right after Kasan Moor's dialogue, "Nice job, Skywalker. I'm beginning to see why they say you're the best.")
Escape from Fest: A unit of Rebel commandoes managed to infiltrate an Imperial base on the planet Fest and comandeer three AT-PTs; however, their cover's been blown and you have to escort them to a rescue shuttle. God, I hate this level! The reason it's so difficult is because your timing has to be as precise as you can get as you clear the way for the trio of very weak walkers. When you first find them, they're stuck in a canyon with an AT-AT that's blasting away at them (often, the one at the rear gets blown up as I arrive) and it's your job to take the walker down while your comrades try to blow up a gate that's keeping them trapped inside. You have to do this as quickly as you can and then zoom past the gate and take care of a couple of laser turrets and a second AT-AT that are waiting for the AT-PTs, who will head right towards them once the gate has been destroyed (you'll be notified when that happens). If you manage to take out that batch of enemies when your comrades blow up the gate, you'll be making good time, but you can't breathe easy yet because you then have to fly over a nearby ridge and tangle up another AT-AT before the AT-PTs reach it. Once that's taken care of, you then have to deal with a squadron of Imperial tanks that roll in from down the hills to fire on the AT-PTs and while the walkers can defend themselves from the front, they're completely helpless against any tanks that get behind them, so those should be the ones you focus on. And just when you thought it couldn't get any more intense, a squadron of eight TIE-Bombers show up to blow the AT-PTs to smithereens, forcing you to once again work fast. As you can see, this level is a nightmare and it seems like something goes wrong nearly every time I play it: I either difficulty tying up that first AT-AT in time, I get shot down while tying up the second one, I'm stuck tying up the third one when the tanks roll in, etc. It's insane and I'm lucky if I can get one AT-PT to the shuttle intact (I couldn't imagine trying to go for the gold here). And when they do reach the shuttle, you still have to go back, destroy the shield generator for a nearby research facility, and then blow up said facility, but after that horrible meat of the operation, this is a piece of cake, even with the missile turrets defending the facility (still, you'd best be careful not to lose your last life and have to do this hellish mission all over again).
Blockade on Chandrila: Enraged over what happened on Fest, Moff Seerdon retaliates by having his forces attack the city of Chandrila and it's Rogue Squadron's job to stop him. Your first job is to escort and protect a supply train that's on its way to the city from numerous TIEs, particularly Bombers that come in from the rear to commence bombing runs on the cars. This first section is a warzone, with you having to fend off enemies that seem to come from every possible direction, particularly from behind you, and you have to watch for those Bombers because they can easily destroy a car before you know what happened. As long as at least one car remains intact, you'll be able to move on to the next objective, which is protecting the city from the Bombers that are attacking it. However, you can't leave the train just yet because two more Bombers will appear to try to blow it up and you have to shoot them down quick. Once that's done, you can concentrate on fighting the Imperials, including six AT-STs that show up to fire on three evacuation shuttles, which are often dwindled down to two before I can do anything since the cinematic here wastes your time (it's best to use your proton torpedoes to take the AT-STs out as fast as possible). After the shuttles are safe, all you have to do is fend off the remaining Imperials until you get the ending cinematic, where Kasan Moor attempts to chase the retreating Moff Seerdon but Luke makes her stand down. A fairly nerve-wracking level in and of itself but, for me, not nearly as frustrating as the previous one.
Raid on Sullust: In response to the attack on Chandrila, Rogue Squadron strikes back at Moff Seerdon by attacking an Imperial base on the volcanic planet of Sullust, mainly to destroy an enormous capacitor there. This is the level that forced me to use the infinite lives code in order to finish the game because, as the Nintendo Power Player's Guide describes, it's "harder than pulling the arms off a Rancor." What makes it so difficult is that you're flying the Y-Wing into an area that's a complete meat-grinder. You have to destroy twelve transmitters on the ground with your bombs in order to knock out the shield protecting the capacitor and every single one of them is guarded by either laser or missile turrets (nearly half of them are guarded by both), AT-STs, or all at once. In short, it seems like everywhere you go, you're being targeted, often by those homing missiles, and taking hits, and the Y-Wing's lack of speed and agility makes it nigh impossible to evade what's being shot at you, especially since you have to fly towards your enemies to bomb the transmitters. Since you come equipped with twenty bombs, it is a good idea to use the spares on those missile turrets but as for the lasers and walkers, all you can do is dodge as best as you can while you take out the transmitters (hopefully, you can take out some or all of those guarding a given transmitter with it). No matter how skilled you are, you're more than likely going to lose at least one ship before you move on to your other objective, which is destroying the capacitor by shooting up the rotating panels in its center. The panels don't take many shots to blow up but you have to make many passes to get them all and as you whittle them down, you'll find yourself waiting for the remaining ones to come into view so you can shoot them. Actually flying into the center isn't wise since, even if you've cleared out a number of panels, one can still easily ram you from behind or you can crash into one up ahead, destroying your ship instantly. Plus, a squadron of TIEs joins the fray when you've destroyed the transmitters, so you have to watch out for them as well. Very challenging level and yet, ironically, when I replayed the game for this review, I ended up beating it without the infinite lives code for the first time. Granted, I crashed on my last life right before the transition to the closing cinematic but the game let it slide, so I'm counting it.
Moff Seerdon's Revenge: Turns out that Moff Seerdon lured Rogue Squadron to Sullust to keep them distracted while he attacks the Alliance's bacta supplies on the planet of Thyferra. Your mission objectives are simple and clear: destroy everything Imperial, including their bunkers, and confront and take down Seerdon. Even though you're flying the X-Wing, in many ways this mission is worse than the previous one because of all the TIE-Interceptors and Bombers zooming around in the sky along with turrets and AT-STs on the ground and how you're constantly being led from one area to another to protect bacta tanks and civilians that get caught up in the mayhem. If you haven't collected many power-ups in the previous levels, this one will end up being even harder than it already is, especially due to areas where Interceptors chase you relentlessly while you're trying to destroy Bombers attacking the bacta tanks or turrets and walkers shooting at civilians. And you have to be careful where you aim because you can easily hit the bacta tanks yourself when trying to shoot enemies and Imperial bunkers nearby. There's just so much chaos going on and clearing out the Imperials takes so damn long that I'm lucky to survive long enough to face Moff Seerdon, who shows up in his shuttle after you've taken care of them to settle the score with you. It also doesn't help that by this point, I'm usually down to my last life and my shields are weak, which sucks big time since Seerdon's shuttle is fast, can withstand a lot of shots, and is armed with deadly seeker torpedoes. The best strategy is to fly far away from him, turn around, lock onto him with your own seeker weapons, and hit him as quickly as you can. If you repeat this pattern successfully several times, his shuttle will slow down and you can get in some blaster shots as well, inching yourself ever closer to the moment when his shuttle gets blown to bits. I must admit, though, that I've never beaten him without the advantage of infinite lives, so don't take what I've said as the Bible on how to win.
Chapter IV: Dark Empire
Battle of Calamari: This, the last of the game's "official" levels, jumps ahead to six years after Return of the Jedi, where Luke has left Rogue Squadron to pursue his Jedi training, leaving Wedge in charge. The new emperor is using enormous machines called World Devastators to strip the planet of Mon Calamari clean and it's up to Rogue Squadron to stop them. It's a simple enough objective but this is one hard mission, mainly because before you can destroy a Devastator, you have to take out a shield generator locked atop its rear, which can only be blown up at close range. This is made very difficult by the number of missile and laser turrets strewn across their tops and that you're flying the completely unshielded V-Wing. Plus, you'd best stay away from the Devastators' rear tractor beams because they can suck you in and smash you to pieces before you realized you made a mistake. Once a Devastator's shield is down, you have to bring it down by destroying two of its four leg jets on one side (I once got crushed when I stupidly flew underneath the Devastator and shot the jets, so don't make that same mistake) and you have a limited amount of time to do this before each Devastator reaches and levels the city in its sights. And on top of that, each Devastator, in particular the latter two, is accompanied by a number of TIE/Ds that will also attack the cities so you have take them out as well, which is tricky due to how quick and armored they are. Basically, you have to use the V-Wing's speed and weapons, especially the rapid-fire mode for the blasters and the cluster missiles, to the max in order to succeed here and try your best to keep your cool when things get dicey, as they quickly do.
Bonus Levels
Beggar's Canyon: During Rogue Squadron's downtime, Luke challenges three of his squad members to the same race that he and his late buddy Biggs ran through all the time when they were younger. This level is as simple as it gets, with the only objective being to win the race; the trick, though, is determining which of the three paths to take and who to follow. Zev takes the fairly straightforward, easy route through the center of the canyon, Dack takes the tougher route to the left, and Wedge, being the sicko that he is, takes the very difficult, twisting route to the right. While it doesn't matter as long as you win the race, whichever route you take determines what medal you'll receive at the end and you can probably guess which one is awarded to which path. Another stipulation is that you must stay within the canyon walls; if you fly or even hover above them for more than a second, Zev will say, "Someone's cheating out there. We're gonna have to start this race over," and you'll be disqualified. You may find that simple enough but the way the paths twist around and rise sharply can easily cause you to end up above them (there is a spot on the hard route where you can jump over a canyon wall without being disqualified but you have to really zip over there because lingering for more than a split-second will get you canned). And as you can also probably guess, it's not very sporting to shoot down the other racers with the Skyhopper's laser blasters.
Death Star Trench Run: This is by far the toughest of the extra stages, mainly because it's an absolute gauntlet of three long corridors filled with laser turrets, big laser towers, and TIE-Fighters than can easily take you down if you get caught up in the fray with them. The first of the two mission objectives is rather misleading because it says to, "Chase the Imperials through the trench," when really, all you have to do is make it to the corridor leading to the exhaust vent, meaning you can close your S-foils and breeze past your enemies. If you're going for the gold, though, you have to maintain a consistent, swift speed while blasting as many enemies as you can, making it even tougher than it is. Once Han and Chewie come to the rescue, it means that your target is around the next corner so you have to get your proton torpedoes ready (and no, Darth Vader doesn't enter the battle here). Using the Force doesn't work in this scenario, so you have to be sure your targeting computer is locked onto the exhaust vent, being careful not to lock it onto any of the other targets around it, and if you're too close to the surface when you fire the torpedo, you could end up missing the vent. What's really disappointing is that even if you hit the mark, you don't get a cinematic of the Death Star blowing up. Hell, you don't even get a shot of the entire thing in this game! That's unforgiveable, if you ask me.
Battle of Hoth: For the real last level in a pretty difficult game, this is surprisingly easy. Like the previous level, the scenario doesn't play out here as it did in the movie (Shadows of the Empire did a better job in that respect). Your first objective is to take out some Probe Droids that are getting a little too close to the Rebel transports and once they're done, you have to rush to save Rogue Ten, who's crashed his speeder, from a trio of AT-STs. You can probably guess what comes next: a small Imperial army is heading for Echo Base's shield generator and you have to stop them. This is one definite instance where your radar can lead you astray because if you follow it exactly, it'll lead you back to the shield generator rather than the approaching threats, wasting a bit of your time. In any case, you have to contend with two lone AT-STs, a second pair of them being followed by two AT-ATs, and one more of each approaching from a narrow canyon closer to the generator. The latter is the best one to deal with first, although when you go in to tie up the AT-AT, you'd best wait for it to enter the spot where the canyon opens up to avoid slamming into the walls. It's also a good idea to let those pairs across from you enter the field before tangling with them since, when the two AT-ATs are right next to each other, you can hit one while trying to tie up the other. And with both groups, it's best to either take care of the AT-ATs first or destroy the AT-STs quickly and wait for the bigger walkers to pass by the pairs of legs they leave behind so they don't get in your way while your harpooning. This mission may sound more difficult than I'm letting on but I've never felt as pressured here as I always am with the Escape from Fest level, so I stand by my opinion that my opinion that this level is fairly easy.
All in all, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is an enjoyable game but it can also be very frustrating. On the good side, the game is well-made, with good graphics for the time, well-designed environments, plenty of voiceover dialogue to give the feel that you're playing one of the movies, a nice selection of ships to choose from that each have their own distinctive pros and cons, controls that are easy to familiarize, and gameplay that doesn't take any effort to get into. However, as I've been describing, the game is often very unforgiving in its difficulty, sometimes due to the individual missions and other times due to generally obnoxious aspects of the game's design and programming. In conclusion, while I would recommend it, especially to any Star Wars fans who haven't played it, if you don't have much tolerance for really difficult video games, you might want to steer clear of it because you may end up throwing your Nintendo 64 out the window before it's over.