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Daniel Erickson’s eyes gleam from across the table.
The director is deep into a discussion of his company’s biggest, most ambitious project yet — Star Wars: Uprising — and his team’s role in creating one of the first stories in the franchise’s new post-Return of the Jedi canon. We’re talking about one of this free-to-play mobile role-playing game’s newest characters and how Kabam reacted when it realized that she could be poised to take a place alongside Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, and the galaxy’s other infamous scum and villainy.
Just think of Deathstick as the next Grand Admiral Thrawn, the first breakout character of the Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe (now Legends) who debuted in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire.
Star Wars canon
“[She] has been, probably, hands-down, the insta-hit character that everyone loves that nobody knows anything about,” said Erickson. “Deathstick was the definitely first time we kinda understood what we were up against and doing.”
After getting copious notes on everything about Deathstick, that’s when Kabam — which didn’t even have plans to reveal the face underneath the wraps — began to understand the magnitude of what it was getting into with creating a new canon character. That’s when everyone looked up and started to going, ‘Oh, wow. This is big stuff.’ And ‘When can we get a Deathstick toy?'”
It’s time to meet Deathstick before Star Wars: Uprising releases Thursday on iOS and Android.
Taking it to the streets
Deathstick is an assassin in the Kouhun. She oozes mystery, with her face wrapped and her agenda hidden. Her group is equally enigmatic, and it’s one of a five factions vying for power in the Anoat Sector after the Emperor’s death.
“The Kouhun are an interesting force. They’re mostly not known at all,” Erickson said. “There are rumors among the sort-of elite of the underworld, and those that know them think of them as professional assassins. In truth, they are a little bit closer to a political illuminati. It’s not clear what they are actually after.”
Uprising isn’t the standard Star Wars tale. As Erickson said, “[It’s] not about the ‘Big Bad’ at the top, having an aristocracy spat with each other, which was very much a great deal of the old EU: a lot of Sith Lords coming back, last admirals.” Kabam’s new game is about folks living on the fringe, the smugglers and the bounty hunters, “the sort of day-to-day people who rose up to become heroes,” he said.
Anoat is a remote slice of the Outer Rim Territories and is the setting for much of The Empire Strikes Back: Hoth, the asteroid field, and Cloud City. And as far as its citizens know, the Emperor is alive and the second Death Star routed the Rebels when Star Wars: Uprising begins.
Under the orders from sector governor, Adelhard, Anoat is locked up as tight as a Muun’s bank account. This isn’t just keeping ships and goods out; this new “Old Man of the Empire” is even keeping out all news about the galaxy and the Alliance’s victory at Endor. His new Purge Troopers — think Stormtroopers on steroids — are keeping a lid on what Adelhard bills as rumors of the Emperor’s death. Joining the Kouhun are other groups trying to take advantage of the situation: a third-rate Rebel cell, a Teamster-like confederation of traders and smugglers, the sector’s former nobles from before Imperial rule.
Why have fans fallen in love with this character, as Erickson told me at a recent interview at Kabam’s San Francisco headquarters? Because like Thrawn, she’s nuanced.
“One of the things, and why I put Riley [the player character’s sister and a driving force in the story] and Deathstick in there, is because we have a very different feel in Uprising. … They’re textured characters.”
And this, Erickson said, is where the comparison is apt. Thrawn isn’t a “cartoon, diabolical evil. In fact, I kinda felt sorry for him, reading it, because his plans were always great, and he always got beat by luck or The Force, and it always seemed kinda unfair. One of the things we’ve tried to do is that there’s that same sort of nuance to the characters we’re adding to the galaxy.”
So while Deathstick may be an assassin, she’s not a one-note killer in Uprising.
Lucasfilm falls in love
Erickson’s done Star Wars before. He was the original lead writer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. And while some ships and characters from it became Lego sets and appeared in comics and books, he wasn’t prepared for what happens when Lucasfilm embraces one of your characters.
“If you see the pictures of Deathstick, in the cover art, she’s in the full face wrap. When we submitted Deathstick initially, Lucasfilm really liked her,” Erickson said. “We got a couple of small notes. One of them was ‘We need to see her without her mask. We need to see her from all of her different perspectives. We need to know what her bloodline is. We need to know what species she is, where all this stuff comes from.’ Initially, there was a little bit of resistance, as we were furiously trying to get the game done. ‘She’s not taking her mask off. It doesn’t matter!'”
But Erickson and his team didn’t get the significance of this, of why Lucasfilm wanted to know everything about Deathstick.
“Lucasfilm came back and said, ‘No, you’ve created a canon character,'” Erickson said. “We love this character. She may show up in movies. She may show up on TV. She might be in a comic book. She could be anywhere. We need to know everything about her and represent her correctly.'”
So maybe, one day, we’ll find out who Deathstick is under those wraps. Or at least put her on a shelf alongside Boba Fett, Bossk, and the other characters of Star Wars’ fringe.
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