Thursday, May 11, 2023

Commentary: Terror Bears

Dread Forge isn’t a reference to anything particular from Star Wars canon. I was simply looking for something that sounded intimidating on the surface.

I’ve never had a problem with Ewoks. I always liked them and thought they were brave. Also, you can’t defeat Imperial forces by being cute and cuddly. The Ewoks used Imperial helmets as drums. What happened to the Imperials who wore them? I’m just saying the Ewoks were gonna roast Luke, Han, and company before Threepio showed off his godlike powers.

The Empire’s mission briefing on Ewoks referred to them as a “docile but territorial pre-hyperspace civilization with pagan beliefs and a strong connection to the forest.” I’m sure Imperial researchers spent about six minutes coming up with that description.  

Of the six stories I wrote, this is the only one presented from a first-person perspective. The narrator here is a stormtrooper nicknamed Bolt. He’s cocky, like the whole unit. They believe they’re basically on Endor as a formality and have no expectation of failure.

Throughout the story, it’s readily apparent he’s in denial at the things happening to the Dread Forge, although the realization starts to sink in toward the end of the story.

The stormtroopers don’t directly interact with the Ewoks. I wanted to present them as something out of Predator—an all-seeing, unstoppable force. They set traps for the stormtroopers, lurk in the forest, etc.

In the hands of a writer more skilled with building terror and tension, this story would feel grimmer in nature. The “kills” come quickly and play broadly. That’s just the way I write.

Something I liked about Revenge of the Sith was how certain clone units painted their armor or added personal touches to their helmets as the conflict dragged on. I used the same idea for the Dread Forge, with members of the unit painting kill streaks or symbols on their armor and helmets. This had to have happened with Imperial units stationed on backwater planets, right?

I like the idea of stormtroopers calling the Emperor “Old Palps.”

I gave the stormtroopers nicknames for clarity’s sake and to show they are a tight-knit unit. Trying to keep names like TK-421 straight would confuse the reader (and the author!), so designations like “Cap,” “Therm,” “Pops,” and “Vibro” came to mind.

The nicknames and their meanings:

  • Cap: "The Captain”
  • Therm: Specialist with thermal detonators
  • Vibro: Expert with vibroblades
  • Pops: Resident “Old Guy”
  • Tracker: Unit’s “capable scout”
  • Cinder: Plays with fire
  • Bolt: Strikes quickly like a lightning or blaster bolt
  • Mags: Always has extra blaster magazines
  • Nines: Unexceptional, professional ninth member of the unit
  • Spanner: Techie named after the hydrospanner tool mentioned in The Empire Strikes Back 

The unit gets cut off from the rest of the Imperial force. Overconfident, they believe they’ll easily handle the Ewok threat and press deeper into the forest. This decision is a grievous tactical error.

In the original version of the story, I had Bolt giving orders even though I’d written a character named “Cap.” Some light rewriting fixed the issue, putting Cap in charge of the Dread Forge and correctly framing Bolt as a member of the unit instead of its leader.

In the middle of the chaos, the narrator stops to ponder why Imperial units have specific armor for specific environments, while stormtroopers are running around the forest sans camouflage. 

I namechecked Corellia and Ryloth because they’re a couple recognizable Star Wars planets. Corellia is Han Solo’s home planet and played a role in several stories in the Legends continuity. It’s still quite relevant in current canon. Ryloth is the home planet of Twi’leks. It’s appeared in both canon and Legends continuity, although I remember it most for being mentioned in one of the X-Wing books, where it was the source of a potent pharmaceutical substance called ryll.

The “Ewoks in the cave” scene was inspired by a similar gory scene in the movie Bone Tomahawk. The Kurt Russell indie movie starts out like a typical western before it takes some, um, unforeseen turns.

Bacta. Of course, the stormtroopers have fast-acting bacta patches for pain relief in the field.

While members of the Dread Forge are dealing with their Ewok tormentors, the rest of the Empire has its hands full with Ewok and Rebel forces. The sounds of battle aren’t that far away in the form of clanking AT-STs, zooming speeder bikes, and screeching blaster bolts.

How did the Ewoks sneak up on them in a cave? And why doesn’t “capable scout” Tracker notice them? Don’t think too hard about it. The author didn’t.

Did anyone really think Pops was still alive?

I like the little detail that Pops was one of the first non-clone stormtroopers. The dude has seen it all. And he got an arrow right through the eye for it.

The BlasTech E-11 is the standard-issue blaster of Imperial stormtroopers. The toy version I had growing up was painted white to make sure no one mistook it for a real weapon.

Is Vibro getting crushed by a giant rock a bit too much? A bit too comical? Probably. The timing here is everything.

What is a mag-tube? Well, the story describes it. More or less, it’s a bazooka for thermal detonators. There’s probably some obscure reference somewhere in Star Wars canon for such a weapon.

Why did Therm’s thermal detonator go off even though he disarmed it? Let’s just say sometimes the Empire went with the lowest bidder and this particular detonator had an unfortunate faulty mechanism. Kaboom.

Even though the rest of the unit is gone, even though he’s seen Vibro and Therm die right in front of him minutes before, Bolt still holds out hope of rescuing Nines and restarting the Dread Forge after the Empire’s inevitable victory on Endor. The exploding Death Star II should dispel any such notions, dude.

Shouldn’t be a real mystery what happens to Bolt at the end. Is the Ewok with the axe the same one from the cave? Maybe. Maybe not.