Star Wars, Writing

The Red Moons – Brixie Ergo

Red Moons Spotlight

Brixie Ergo

Brixie Ergo, image credit: Mike Vilardi

Encouraged by her parents, both recognized medical specialists in the Entralla system, Brixie enrolled in one of the prominent universities there to pursue a medical career of her own. After several years of intense study, Doctors Mari and Praxis Ergo were on their way to attend their daughter’s graduation ceremony when they were taken by agents of the Pentastar Alignment. Brixie never heard from her parents again.

Enraged and overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness, Brixie was encouraged by some politically-active students to reach out to the Red Moons. Accused of paramilitary activity, the Red Moons and its leader—Colonel Andrephan Stormcaller—were said to be former Rebel Alliance infiltrators-turned-mercenaries. Stormcaller denounced the Pentastar Alignment’s occupation of his home world of Entralla. Dismayed by a lack of action from the New Republic, he and his associates took matters into their own hands. They sabotaged Alignment starships and bases, raided convoys, and liberated surrounding systems. If anyone could help Brixie free her parents, it might be them.

The young graduate’s attempts to contact Stormcaller were fraught with peril. Instructors warned her against it while friends either went into hiding or disappeared. Close acquaintances of her parents begged her to stop trying. The Alignment was simply too big, too powerful and controlled nearly everything on Entralla. Picked up and intimidated by Pentastar agents, they finally let her go, hoping she would lead them to the elusive Red Moons.

The agents, watching her by remote drone and security sniffers, tracked Brixie to a hurried comlink call directing her to a warehouse near the capital’s spaceport. The agents arrived with a heavily-armed squad of stormtroopers. They burst into the warehouse ready to arrest the student and the traitorous mercenaries, but found themselves locked inside—with a hungry trio of rathtars waiting to devour them.

Brixie, grabbed from behind and thrown into the back of a utility van speeder, was driven madly through the streets and tossed out near an alley between two commercial buildings in the worst part of the city.

“Don’t bother looking for us again!” the disguised driver warned her. She had been saved and turned away at the same time.

Dejected and roughed-up from her wild ride, Brixie was about to wonder how she was going to find a way back to her campus housing when she nearly stumbled over a drunken man in the alley. Cursing her clumsiness in a host of languages (none of them civil), the man shouted that she had interrupted his sleep. At the end of all patience, Brixie almost ran off in terror. But the man’s dismal lot in life and her chosen profession moved her to at least offer to help him.

“This is a terrible place for someone to sleep. Please come with me, sir. I’ll find you a shelter with a real bed.”

The drunkard’s surly voice changed to something surprisingly calm and observant.

“You’re a long way from the comforts of the city, Brixie Ergo, student of the medical arts.” The man got his feet and tossed aside the filthy raincoat he had been cocooned in. He removed a wig from his head and a set of plastic layers that disguised his face. “A long way to look for a name.”

“I am looking for someone!” Brixie was startled. How did this man know her? “Someone named Stormcaller.”

“Congratulations, my young lady.” He waved at his smelly self. “You found him.”

Colonel Stormcaller and the Red Moons had been keeping Brixie under surveillance, determining if she was truly in need of help or simply another plot by agents of the Alignment to trap them. Hearing firsthand the story of her parents and their forced induction in the Pentastar Alignment’s secretive medical corps, the colonel offered Brixie a working arrangement. He and the Red Moons would do everything in their power to locate and rescue her parents, and in return, Brixie would train to become a combat medic for the Red Moons.

The young graduate tentatively agreed, putting off her medical internship on Entralla for a uniform and a barren moon to begin training with the mercenaries.

Her time with the Red Moons was wearying and frustrating. Her parents were constantly moved around and kept just out of her reach. Though she became close friends with the core of the Red Moons, particularly unit leader Sully Tigereye and demolitions expert Hugo Cutter, she didn’t believe she was much of a soldier. There was plenty of violence and death as the war between the Moons and the Alignment for Entralla escalated from random piracy and sabotage missions to explosive battles in the historic quarter.

The only person Brixie felt she could confide with among the Moons was the least likely among them: a thief and data slicer named Ivey Deacon. Ivey was nearly the same age as Brixie, but grew up in the grim plexes of Contras Gola’s hive cities. Ivey was curt, crude and could be brutally honest. She took to calling Brixie by the nickname of “Princess” because of her safe, cultured, Entrallan upbringing. When Brixie and the Moons were in a tight spot, it was Ivey who squashed security protocols and reprogrammed enforcer droids to open fire on their own troops. Once the battle was over, it was Brixie who patched up the survivors so they could fight another day. Tigereye, noting Brixie’s own cheerless tendency to keep to herself, kept pairing her up with Ivey on some of her wilder escapades: thieving supplies and information right under from the Alignment’s nose.

The idea of participating on one of Ivey’s “shopping expeditions” stirred Brixie with excitement. Ivey was more grinning outlaw than soldier. The two took to their work with glee, Brixie playing the meek girl in need of help from Alignment troops while Ivey drove off, waving to them, in their military speeder.

At last, Brixie was given her first mission. She was to accompany her instructor, Sully Tigerye, and two other experienced members of the Red Moons: Hugo Cutter and Lex Kempo. Their target: a slaving operation on the jungle moon of Gabredor III.

Cutter was considered a former prodigy of the Imperial Engineers Academy, that is until his father tried to have him reconditioned by the Empire. Young Hugo brought down the Academy’s famous bell tower on Corsucant without injuring a single person. He was swept up by the Rebel Alliance where he put his skills to work as a demolitions expert. Brixie spent her time on the mission carefully keeping an eye on Hugo and watching out for his somewhat erratic behavior. Lex Kempo, aka the “Mad Vornskr”, was a former scout trooper for the Empire and a seasoned merc. He took it upon himself to instruct Brixie on the finer details of mercenary life.

Brixie on Gabredor III, Image Credit: Mike Vilardi

Brixie’s first foray as a field medic was fraught with danger. The Red Moons’ ship malfunctioning, forcing a landing by lifeboat pod. Brought down some distance from the camp, Brixie and Hugo Cutter ran into several slaver scouts mounted on raptors. One of the beasts, its rider killed, charged into Brixie. Only her vibroblade saved her from being trampled.

The mission could have been hailed as a success: two important children taken by the slavers were rescued and many slaves were freed. But the toll on Brixie was almost too much to bear. Kempo sacrificed himself knocking out a heavy weapon bunker that had pinned Brixie and Hugo down.

The mercenary life was full of danger…and death. Brixie began to question what her personal crusade to rescue her parents would cost in the lives of others–especially  her friends.

 

 

More on Brixie and the Red Moons can be found on Wookipedia.

Some of this material appeared in the character synopsis for “Blaze of Glory” by Tony Russo, Star Wars Adventure Journal Vol. 1, No. 8, November 1995, West End Games. Original artwork credit: Mike Vilardi.

“Blaze of Glory” is also available in Star Wars: Tales From the Empire, edited by Peter Schweighofer. 

Writing

What The Heck Was The Star Wars Adventure Journal?

 

Adventure Journal 2

Adventure Journal 3

Adventure Journal 4
Where You Can Find Me!

“…and why should I care?”, you’re probably asking.

[In which the author attempts to explain the mysteries of writing for the Star Wars universe and the general headaches of working as a contractor building a pool for a house that the new owners didn’t want but decided to use sometimes.]

A long time ago in a house far, far away (the 1990s, just so you know), I was a struggling author with few publishing credits to my name. My fate at the time represented the Catch-22 of life as an author. To be considered for publication, you have to be already published. That’s the way it was. Agents wouldn’t read your queries. Publishers would laugh because they wouldn’t consider you as a real author unless you had some credentials.

I stewed like this for some time, sending out short stories to sci-fi magazines and novel submissions to the major publishers with hopeful expectation, only to collect a pile of rejection letters. (This was all pre-Internet, so the entire industry relied upon paper and envelopes and stamps.)

A friend of mine returned from a local convention with a broadside offering authors (of all stripes) a chance to write for a company called West End Games which was putting out something called The Star Wars Adventure Journal, a quarterly magazine offered as a companion to its new release of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The Journal would offer little games, new characters, equipment and location stats for enthusiastic use in the RPG. It would also offer short fiction. In other words, it was a chance to write for Star Wars–and have your work considered canon.

So what is canon? (It’s not a gun, but it has been used as a weapon.)

Canon is the Holy Grail of writing for someone else’s property. Say you have an idea for Buffy The Vampire Slayer? It belongs to Joss Whedon, so you skillfully locate his postal address, slip your manuscript (with brass brads!) down the mail slot and eagerly await his reply. Mr. Whedon’s lawyer promptly writes back and tells you to go jump in the lake. Buffy is a product that belongs only to Mr. Whedon, only he can create licensed material or make deals to produce more material. Think the Buffy comics and you understand what I mean.

West End Games held the license for producing the Star Wars Roleplaying Game and was offering chances for writers (some with limp credentials like myself) the chance to write more material for the universe. This chance was extremely vetted–the editors at West End Games had to pass each writer’s work on to Lucasfilm for a blessing. Once blessed, the work was considered canon. What you had written was part of the Star Wars universe, living side-by-side with the movies, the books, the video games and other stuff.

I wrote like a demon. This was a universe I adored when I was a teenager and in the Nineties, Star Wars had lost most of its luster. The universe was lying there in a used speeder shop waiting for someone to tune it up to eleven again. Timothy Zahn released a trilogy of new books with new adventures for the Skywalkers and the Solos. The New Republic era was created. West End Games had a new edition of its roleplaying game tied to this new era and things started cooking. The Adventure Journal came out along with new books, new comics and new releases of toys.

It lasted only for a few years. West End Games developed financial problems. It bought licenses for other properties (some of them without much lucrative basis for an RPG) and overextended itself. Some people got paid very slowly and others not at all. The RPG license was passed to Wizards of the Coast (which was consumed by Hasbro. Pen and paper RPGs were slowly being edged out by video games. The RPG languished and so did Star Wars until the prequel movies were released.

There was a lot of material to keep track of. Too much canon, in fact.

The point of this is to explain why some material written for Star Wars (the so-called “Extended Universe”) was wiped out and tossed in a Sarlaac pit. After Disney acquired Lucasfilm and Star Wars, it wanted to make new movies, new characters (which in turn are used to decorate toy boxes) and erase a lot of confusion regarding the period between the end of Return of the Jedi and their new stuff. In other words, the EU was sent to the boneyard. That meant my work, twenty or so years ago, was voided and is no longer considered canon. (On Wookiepedia and starwars.com, much of this material has been reorganized under the title Legends, to avoid confusion.)

Which is too bad. While it was confusing to some, there were tons of material produced by great writers and artists in the fifteen editions of the Star Wars Adventure Journal (um, my own stuff included). Some of this material did slip in from books like the Star Wars Sourcebooks created by West End. What’s the interior layout of the Millennium Falcon and where are its secret cargo compartments? How does a blaster pistol or a lightsaber work? Where’s Yavin Four in relation to the other worlds in the galaxy? What are the known variants of the TIE Fighter? This is essential legwork–a story scaffolding–that’s already been established and it occasionally pops up, again and again, in The Force Awakens, Clone Wars, Rebels and Rogue One.

Check out that portable missile launcher from Rogue One!

Missile Launcher!

With this one…

Finbat Anti-walker missile and launcher, from the Star Wars Adventure Journal, “Blasters-for-Hire”, written and drawn by yours truly

So twenty plus years later, I decided to dig in that past and write a new piece of fiction to celebrate my old work with the Star Wars Adventure Journal. It’s not canon, its not authorized, its simply a work of love.

Red Moon Rising

Red Moon Rising covers some of the heroes, adversaries, characters and worlds I previously wrote about and updates them with events of The Force Awakens. Consider it a chance to return to the world of Star Wars while endlessly waiting for The Last Jedi.

 

 

 

Big 80s Rewatch

Big 80s Rewatch — Blue Thunder

To stem the tide of constantly watching Facebook feeds and other news sources during this tense season of political discontent, I offer a series of retrospects rewatching some of the classics from the past, namely the Ronald Reagan-era driven, not really politically correct, box office sensations of the 1980s.

We begin, in true nonsensical fashion, with what is claimed to be “the biggest helicopter action film of all time”: Blue Thunder. Goodness knows what that means, but Blue Thunder (1983) was one of the first in a string of summer hits in a year that also gave us Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, WarGames, Octopussy and Risky Business.

Blue Thunder was one of a growing number of “political thriller/action adventure” films rising up to whet the public’s appetite during the IranContra-gate proceedings of the Reagan years. Along with Rambo: First Blood Part II, WarGames, Capricorn OneThree Days of the Condor, and Marathon Man (although not part of the same era), there was a growing public feeling that the government was not being entirely truthful and conspiracies were around every corner.

In retrospect, Blue Thunder could probably play right at home in today’s troubling Trump presidency as it did in 1983. The story revolves around a rebellious helicopter pilot-cop, Officer Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), who is asked to participate in a government project flying The Special, an armed surveillance helicopter patrolling the skies over Los Angeles. He discovers a conspiracy about the helicopter project and fights the government and his own police department–using the helicopter dubbed “Blue Thunder–to bring the truth to the public. Once the political thriller is established, mayhem ensues.

As it states in the opening credits of the film, the technology shown actually existed at the time and has no doubt improved in the nearly thirty years since the film was shown. One can only imagine this is where conspiracy theorists get their ideas about “black helicopters” listening in to your most intimate conversations.

Officer Murphy is introduced right off the bat as a pilot barely on the edge–using a Casio stopwatch (remember those??) to check his sanity. His old observer abandoned him because of some rumored “off his rocker” moment that’s never fully explained. His new observer is none other than Home Alone alumnus, Daniel Stern, in one of his earliest roles. Murphy’s a veteran of the LAPD’s Astro Division (a fancy term for police helicopters) and he quickly introduces Stern’s character to the wonderful, slam-bang world of policing in the 1980s. Right at the start there’s a bank robbery (with black perpetrators dressed in pretty ridiculous clothing) robbing a liquor store and getting into a gun fight with cops. There is no PC “stop or I’ll shoot” here, just shoot, shoot and shoot. After the gun battle, Stern’s character encourages Murphy to prove a rumor about a homeowner who likes to stretch and exercise…in the nude.  (Blue Thunder is rated “R” and this is one of the reasons why.) Hovering for awhile while Stern ogles, they are drawn away to another gun battle in a ritzy LA neighborhood. There’s a woman being attacked by “local Barrio” types and they get drawn into a gun battle with cops. The woman is badly injured and paperwork in the woman’s briefcase goes flying, scattered by the helicopter.

Thanks to the news, we learn the woman has died of her injuries. She was also on the mayor’s special council investigating the possibility of more public rioting with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games coming. (We see the woman was being followed by a creepy dude hiding out in an abandoned car spotted by Murphy and Stern beforehand, so we know there’s more to this woman’s death than a random act of violence.)

We get a sense of Murphy’s civilian life when he heads for home–using his Casio stopwatch to time himself as he spins his muscle car around the pylons at the police department. Clearly, everybody in L.A. drives like a madman (see this point later when we’re introduced to Murphy’s girlfriend Kate, who also happens to be the only girl in the movie not killed who is referred to by name (played by Candy Clark.))

Officers Frank Murphy and Daniel Stern (his character is called Richard Lymnagood, which is a running joke throughout the film) are grounded for their “observation stunt” with the naked yoga practitioner. No sooner are they both busted from duty when they’re reassigned to a secret project from the government. Murphy is introduced to “Blue Thunder”, a special helicopter that carries the latest “look and shoot” tech. The demo involves a gunnery range where the helicopter uses its firepower (a Gatling cannon similar to that carried by the A-10 Thunderbolt II) to kill “terrorists” and avoid hitting civilians. The demo doesn’t go off perfectly, there are some technology problems, but the point is made clear by two chilly government officials (appropriately named Iceland and Fletcher (who has a porn ‘stache to boot) that the U.S. doesn’t want a repeat of the Israeli team massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games. Blue Thunder is intended as a surveillance weapon. The firepower is a deterrent.

Murphy is then introduced to his old pal and nemesis, Colonel F.E. Cochrane, played from the “let’s-make-a-Brit-the-bad-guy” casting department, Malcolm McDowell. (Frankly, I was surprised it wasn’t the actor David Warner. He might have been too busy making Time Bandits.) Cochrane and Murphy have a lot of bad blood together as it’s revealed that they both “flew together in ‘Nam”, a common-enough trope invoking the Vietnam War as a time when the U.S. government did really bad things to people. Cochrane is the government’s test pilot for the Blue Thunder project and he’s angry at Iceland and Fletcher for picking Murphy to be the pilot for the L.A. tests. “But don’t worry,” he remarks to them. “I’ll take care of it.”

Cochrane wants to test Murphy and Lymangood in a game of “follow the leader” over Los Angeles. Little does Murphy know that the cheeky Brit sabotaged his helicopter by loosening one bolt.  (As though it was that easy to sabotage a helicopter.) Murphy and Lymangood are nearly killed when they have to put the helicopter down hard in a construction lot. The locals don’t seem to like their sudden arrival and a fistfight nearly breaks out.

Despite Cochrane’s complaint and the tensions between them, Murphy and Lymnagood are given a chance to take the helicopter out on their own. This is that moment where, once again, we discover that the law enforcement professionals we call upon to protect us are the worst sort of children (See the Lethal Weapon movies for further examples.) Lymnagood, a technical junkie, wants Murphy to try out all the helicopter’s gizmos–especially the surveillance capabilities. They tap into federal databases and listen in on a conversation between a hooker and a client. They come upon a police motorcycle parked in front of a house, determine the resident is actually home (using a government database that is updated with the whereabouts of every person based on where they live) and use the helicopter’s boosted microphones to pick up the cop and the resident in mid, and then failed, coitus–broadcasting it over the loudspeakers. “Good old double dork,” Murphy comments.

They discover the helicopter’s whisper mode, reducing the noise of the blades, and scope around buildings without a care (or a warrant). Seeing Cochrane leaving the police department, Murphy decides to follow him and uses the helicopter’s technology to find out Cochrane has a shady past with the government. They use the copter to spy on him. They come upon a federal building, find Cochrane and others using infrared sensors and microphones to pick up an important discussion. They overhear the helicopter is to be used offensively. The council woman who was killed was going to reveal the project and had to be silenced. Cochrane gets permission to get rid of Murphy too. At the worst possible moment, Cochrane pulls back a drape and sees Blue Thunder hanging out there, listening in on everything they say.

Back at base, Lymnagood immediately yanks out the heliocopter’s black box tape which recorded everything. Murphy goes to his boss, but stops himself from spilling the beans when he finds Iceland there. He sees Lymnagood take the tape. Lymnagood goes home, but he’s ambushed by a number of thugs who want the tape. He won’t tell them and gets away, but he’s run down by the lead thug. Murphy shows up at his house, sees the paramedics and the cops, and hightails it out of there. Returning to Astro Division, he gets inside the helicopter, puts in a fuse they removed so not to record their own conversations and hear’s Lymnagood’s last recorded message. He took the tape and tossed it in a dumpster at a drive-in theater.

With all the political thriller cards on the table, it’s up to Murphy to set things right. He steals the helicopter, contacts Kate and tells her to get the tape from the dumpster and take it to the TV station (because that’s what the free press is for.) Using Blue Thunder, he shepherds her from the cops, using the guns to randomly destroy several police cruisers without hurting the cops (naturally). Thus we get to see “crazy woman driver” as Kate, driving a Chevy Vega of all things, manages to elude the LAPD and reaches the TV station. Agent Fletcher is there, hoping to intercept her, but a producer reaches her first.

Now the entire Astro Division goes after Murphy, chasing him in their helicopters with SWAT guys through and under the L.A. canal (see Terminator 2, Grease and other films that use this famous locale). This is fairly exciting stuff, since much of it appears to have been shot over the streets with the actual aircraft. The Air Force gets involved and tries to shoot Murphy down with “heat seeking missiles.” This turns into a farce as Murphy manages to trick one missile into destroying a BBQ stand (no one is killed, naturally) and in a scene oddly reminiscent of 9-11, the side of an office building (we have no idea how many people were killed there either). Murphy turns the guns on one of the F-16s and shoots it down (highly improbably, but this is Hollywood.)

Murphy then gets attacked by Cochrane who’s flying a faster military chopper (it resembles a scout but its armed with two machine guns.)  The two duck and dive around L.A. with Blue Thunder’s guns damaged and locked in one position. Finally, Murphy decides to do the one thing Cochrane says is “impossible”; Murphy loops Blue Thunder over Cochrane, gets behind him and blows him out of the sky.

To insure the helicopter will never be used again, Murphy drops the helicopter on a set of tracks in front of a fast-approaching freight train and allows the aircraft to be destroyed. The staging of this scene almost suggests Murphy never gets out the helicopter in time, but it’s all in the editing. The last scene is of him walking away while the copter goes up in a ball of flame. A TV personality voice-over announces investigations into the incident.

So Kids, What Have We Learned?

Welcome to the 1980s. Throughout the film, there’s a callous disregard of civil rights, warrants, public safety, and the use of extreme force. See Godzilla (with Matthew Broderick) for more examples of civil servants behaving very badly.

Blue Thunder, despite its attempt at being an action film, is pretty sedate. Three-fourths of the movie is built around Murphy and Lymnagood trying to unravel Project THOR and what the government is doing with the helicopter. We are fed scene after scene suggesting the government is up to no good.

There’s an exciting mid-film scene that shows the helicopter’s firepower, but except for the ending, the movie is mostly all flying and using tech. Much of the flying footage and the scenes with the tech were cannibalized for Blue Thunder, a short-lived TV series on ABC. Without the guns, the copter is pretty lame. See Air Wolf for a much more violent interpretation towards fast, heavily-armed helicopters that make wicked sounds.

The Special was actually a French-built helicopter, with bolted on pieces to mimic the Apache cannon, cockpit and armor plates. The changes made to the helicopter actually made it pretty slow and different shots had to be used to suggest how fast it was. The “loop” effect was performed with a radio-controlled model.

PTSD, especially after the Vietnam War, is a common-ailment for movie heroes.  The first draft of the screenplay called for Murphy to be “really insane” and he uses the helicopter to injure and kill many people before he’s brought down by jets. Subsequent later drafts portrayed Murphy as a sympathetic character.

The actor Malcolm McDowell is apparently terrified of flying. You can see his discomfort in the scenes he was filmed chasing Murphy.

We don’t really understand what attracts Candy Clark’s character of Kate to Frank Murphy. She’s a single mother driving a Vega around in a scary fashion, and that’s the entire backstory of her character. Some of the scenes they have suggests she wants to help him through his issues. It’s not made all that clear why he’s attracted to her, except that she puts up with him.

On a modern note, it’s clear to see there’s a lot of abuse of surveillance practices in this film. Today, with our privacy surrendered to email systems and social media, it appears the government doesn’t need a big blue helicopter to spy on us anymore.

Coming up on the Big 80s Rewatch, another movie about yet another cop named Murphy.