“Why do we tell stories…”
I am not really a fan of prequels. The stakes are hardly ever present since the audience is aware of the fates of the protagonists and the story at large. Most have not lived up to their self professed hype, but on occasion one manages to add to the narrative it owes itself to while weaving a new story with weight and purpose and meaning. Exandria Unlimited: Calamity from Critical Role is one such production.
Calamity is a prequel to the three main campaigns, one shots, and side quests taking place in the world of Exandria created by the minds behind Critical Role. It is set millennia before the events of the first Critical Role campaign and tells of the downfall of the Age of Arcanum that led to the Calamity, a period of great strife and turmoil for the world of Exandria as the gods fought one another for the last time before banishing themselves behind the Golden Gate. If that sounds like a lot of “nerd shit”, that is because it is. However, like with all great stories, that “nerd shit” is just window dressing.
All the talk about gods and apocalypses and magic is just the genre particulars that give aesthetic and flavor to the story being told. At its core, Calamity is a tale about hubris, pride, humility, family (found and biological), dreams, choices, consequences, suffering, and hope; in short, it is a story about people, flaws and all, and accepting the consequences of their choices but still being defiant in the face of futility because it is simply the right thing, the only thing really, to do. In many ways, this four episode campaign reminds me of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In similar fashion, the audience knows how doomed this scrappy group truly is. The characters know they are on borrowed time. But they still fight and push forward because Hope is necessary, and if that is all they can provide, then it is a worthy final endeavor.
Another similarity between the two stories is how imperfect the core cast of characters are. They are flawed and foolish and make bad choices because of their selfish motivations and ego. And some of these choices have dire consequences for themselves and the world at large. However, there is redemption for these individuals. But it is not the standard of seeing them become heroes with songs and stories; instead, like in Rogue One, it is a group of people doing all they can to give what and who comes next a chance even at the costs of their own lives and futures. Perhaps that is what makes this particular piece of media, and Critical Role at large, so engaging. We know that people are far from perfect and will make utterly idiotic choices, but it is also good and necessary to know that those wrongs can be righted. And that there are those willing to do the work to correct those errors even at great costs because it is right to do so.
“Why do we tell stories…” The narrative of Calamity ends with a speech from Brennan Lee Mulligan (an incredible storyteller in his own right) that somehow provides an answer to that ageless question. I will not write out said answer here because it behooves you to watch this campaign and make the journey to that answer at the end. It is a well told story, and one worth hearing.