Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Starfinder: Darkest Star


While the second episode of Star Trek: Starfinder has been delayed you might think that her creators have been resting on their laurels, twiddling thumbs and generally not doing a lot.

Yeah, I didn't think that either because as we hit the 47th Anniversary of Star Trek's first airing back in 1966, these guys have launched a graphic novel. 

Now I only found out about this very recently and was very surprised to find that this was another avenue that they were pursuing. It's not what I expected and I had been wondering what all the CGI I was coming across was all about. Now I understand but perhaps it's better if the man behind this new addition to the Starfinder story explains it in his own words:




"The decision to create graphic novels for Starfinder is not a new one. I actually discussed this idea back when the pilot episode first aired.



We are also behind on episode two by several months. albeit unintentionally, such is the dilemma of any fan production that has volunteer crew who have real life priorities to contend with first.



We have episode two and three simultaneously being developed as I partnered up with Busy lil Beavers productions, a new company that has several Star Trek podcasts under it's wing. They have helped to take up some of the slack and help produce episode three at the same time we are finishing episode two, so once the wait is over there will be a back to back content explosion!



I went to school for 3D media after picking a lot of it up on my own, and have written comic stories with the tools privately for a few years. One of the first ideas I had was taking some of the backstory in Starfinder and creating a prequel graphic novel which was inspired no less by those produced as prequels for both of the recent JJ Abrams Star Trek films entitled Countdown and Countdown to Darkness from IDW.





So the first graphic novel is called Darkest Star and is a prequel set 25 years prior to the Starfinder pilot The Back of Beyond. It takes place during the days leading up to the explosion of the Hobus star and the destruction of the Romulan homeworld as featured in 2009's Star Trek movie...."

2387 


The USS Paragon, a Sovereign Class starship commanded by Captain Michael Woods, is ordered to escort a heavily pregnant Romulan Ambassador to Earth for a vital conference with the Federation council.

As a romance blossoms between the captain and the ambassador, a mysterious prototype Romulan warbird called the Dark Star commanded by a Tal Shiar officer named Sub-Commander Synn, is tailing them, disruptors and torpedoes locked and ready.

Their mission is about to take an unexpected detour as the Dark Star is under orders not to allow the ambassador to reach Earth, no matter what the cost.

Now it's fair to say that this is not a multi-layered story that gets exceptionally detailed and criss-crosses across time and space, messing with every sense you have. Darkest Star plays it straight, leaving the reader with an absolute understanding of what is going on from start to finish in the first part briefly synopsed above.

Focusing on the captain's relationship with the Romulan ambassador while they are being stalked by the warbird it's a valiant first effort by the hands at the helm of the Starfinder project and ensures that we know it's still out there while the next two episodes are produced.

What I would say is that events do seem to take place at a breakneck speed especially the aforementioned relationship. Now I like a good pace and there's no doubt of that here but perhaps it could have been played out a little longer than dinner and a lie down. Seeing it grow during the mission might have been a more Star Trek-like way of doing things but wait - that's not necessarily the best way or indeed that it was intended. Hey, keeping the pace keeps the interest.

After all, there have been other shifts in the universe in the last few years and perhaps this is a great way to get some more modern "perspectives" on the human condition that Roddenberry so fervently believed in.

Certainly Starfinder has faced a barrage of comments over its portrayal of the same-sex relationship featured within this story and for that it should be congratulated. While it's not the only Star Trek tale to tackle this subject the point that it exists within the narrative indicates that there is room for everyone within this universe.

George worked solely on this project and would probably note that his work has come a long way since he first drew a frame for the comic and I'll try and get him to drop a piece together to discuss the creation in more detail (some making of images would be great) but let's look more at the finished creation.

There are two ships in the picture here - the Paragon and the mysterious Romulan craft shadowing them and nor is the narrative or panels overloaded with too many characters from the off. Now there is a lot of set up here which will hopefully tail nicely into the second installment of this prequel but I would have liked to have learned more about the characters we meet as I feel that, to some degree we are very focused on the actions taking place but don't get to know these individuals which I, personally, would have welcomed.

Looking at this from a visual point of view you can see that there's been a lot of effort set into the production. Sets such as the bridge, quarters and transporter room have all been recreated as well as the introduction of a new Romulan vessel. The characters themselves are a little basic however it allows a lot of room for maneuver and improvement going forward. I might also add that the speech bubbles in some of the panels do take up a bit more room than I might have liked but that's a personal opinion!

Importantly the knowledge of the subject matter is there in the style of the characters' dress as well as some of the items discussed. Also, with the cast kept to a minimum there are some nice asides which show the potential for the development of the crew's relationships which are constrained by the format which doesn't allow for as much maneuver as perhaps a written novel or Starfinder's audio adventures. However, I do want to see where this goes. Comparing the development work and each step will be a great journey to observe and enjoy.

Now originally I had intended to halt the piece there, exude my excitement at the temptation of part two and ask George for some more info to raise an eyebrow or two. However, that won't happen because I've managed to get a sneak preview of that second installment already....

Part Two 


Continues Starfinder creator George: "The second one in the works, which already has a good portion of it's rendering done in advance, takes us to the present with the Starfinder crew and is titled The Last Preserver."

Deep within the outback, Starfinder makes a startling discovery. A temporal maelstrom contains within, a life pod, amidst debris from a ship thousands upon thousands of years old, all preserved by the temporal anomaly.

Bringing it on board, they are shocked to find an alien child..not just any child, but the DNA match for the ancient race known as The Preservers.

Now, as the crew try to unlock the mystery and help the awakened child cope, the ship comes under attack by parties who want their new passenger for themselves...

Now this really hits the mark. I LOVED the second part and it seemed to make a quantum leap in quality from the first part. While that segment chopped and moved quickly this focuses on an event as the Paragon comes under attack. It's full of action, danger and loss which makes it stand out against the first episode. That stayed clear of action and just expressed set up but if this is just a taste of where Darkest Star is going I'm certainly going to be following intently.

There are more characters and situations introduced here including the single sex relationship between the chief engineer and the ship's counselor. While not blatantly examined it's certainly hinted at and is almost a "C" plotline behind the action taking place between the Paragon bridge and the Romulans stalking the starship.

There's certainly a lot more tension bubbling in the second part and the quicker pace seems to suit the style of the story making it feel a lot more natural to read and flow through. In fact it helps make some sense of the threads left dangling from the first installment. Perhaps those few extra frames have helped bring out the characters a little more. While I find this single sex relationship intriguing I'm still not totally convinced by the romance between Ambassador T'Lana and Captain Woods that erupted in Part One. It still seems frighteningly quick even though this is how it was intended.

Luckily the focus in the second part sticks Woods in the centre of the action and George manages to weave in some external action shots as well as keeping us on the bridge as the situation evolves. Again the narrative remains fairly straight forward so don't expect too much in the way of anecdotes or side remarks beyond the structure of the story. This is 75% aiming at action and is definitely aiming in the right direction. What of the other 25%? Character. Namely the Woods/T'Lana pairing and the captain's opposite number and her first officer on the Romulan ship. It's a good mirror (whether intended or not) but I would heed that future episodes could do with developing characters in other ways perhaps away from pairings of a romantic leaning. Let's find out about these guys' backgrounds, what drives them and even what means Woods jumps at the chance to bed a Romulan ambassador!

The story is certainly in another gear for the second part and by adding some more background characters you can see that there is a great deal of opportunity to dive off into different directions and storylines which, I would imagine, might provide a chunk of background and origins for the main Starfinder project.  I would hope that with the second and third installments of that series we'll see some references to this visual novel which will start to grow the history of the characters and the ship.

While there is still a lot of work to do here, it's a great start to the novel and to the Starfinder story. Seeing the suggestions of peers and changes being made to improve the material makes this and its creator very accessible. This in turn makes it a wonderful thing to follow as a fan. It's made by someone who loves the franchise but still wants to add his own mark onto a new angle of the tale.

There's a lot more to come from this stable I'm certain and I hope that Some Kind of Star Trek will be there to see the different facets of this potentially rich aspect of the Star Trek universe bloom. 

You can download the first part of the graphic novel, Darkest Star, now HERE . Also be sure to check out the full Star Trek: Starfinder site to learn about the whole series and more. They can also be found on Facebook.