What makes a Star Wars adventure?

Not too long ago , freelance RPG writer Sterling Hershey was interviewed about his upcoming Edge of the Empire full adventure, Beyond the Rim. The interview started off with a bold question from FFG, “You’ve done a lot of work with Star Wars roleplaying games. What do you feel distinguishes an adventure that truly feels like Star Wars from an adventure that just happens to be set within the Star Wars universe?”

Respectfully, I do not agree with Hershey’s response. In my admittedly amateur opinion, he described the exact opposite of what the FFG interviewer was asking; a gaming world full of style without substance, paying lip service to buzzwords while ignoring the heart of the matter, focusing on lightsabers and forgetting about fathers.

For me, there are three essential elements that make something, an adventure, a short story, a movie, what-have-you, quintessentially STAR WARS: rebellion against authority, a used future, and the inner struggle against our dark impulses.

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At the core of the Star Wars experience lies rebellion against authority. You see this in every movie, whether overtly displayed through the Rebel Alliance’s all-out war against the Galactic Empire or more subtle ways with Han Solo’s smart-ass attitude and nonchalant disrespect for authority, casually dismissing Princess Leia’s title and stature. Luke is seen early in the series as obedient to his elders, waiting another season to sign up for the Academy, and he is sulking and miserable for it. It is only when he seizes his destiny and joins the rebellion does he become genuinely happy.

Secondly, Star Wars inhabits a universe of the “used future“. The Star Wars galaxy is a hand-me-down from our parents’ heyday. The relics of the past still hang around in various states of disrepair. The old guard stubbornly cling to their posts and grip tight to their power, while the new generation struggles to find their place in the universe. This is seen in the movies on both a positive and a negative; from Obi-Wan and Yoda’s teachings of the old Jedi ways to Luke, through Darth Vader’s interactions with his own subordinates.

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Lastly, a Star Wars RPG adventure should in some way explore mankind’s inner struggle with our own personal “Dark Side“, a specter of past deeds that haunts us as we make our way through life. To again take parallels from the movies, these struggles come in the form of both obvious and allegorical. Han Solo’s struggle with his less-than-noble past and conflicted feelings about helping the Rebellion, seen in the first two movies, shows a more nuanced approach; contrasted to the over-the-top and more literal interpretation showed by Luke Skywalker’s struggle with his own feelings of anger, as well the pit-of-the-stomach fear of growing up to be just like his corrupted father.

The bright future we were promised is spotted with rust and fueled by fear, doubt, and betrayal. Media, such as roleplaying game adventure, that do not convey this motif is, in my opinion, simply not Star Wars. And an RPG adventure properly set in this universe should have elements to convey these themes. This is not the dreary, nihilistic, uncaring universe of despair such as portrayed in the Warhammer 40k genre, for example. The Star Wars experience, instead, presents a set of seemingly overwhelming obstacles and setbacks whose origins lie in the previous generation, symbolic for our own real-world relationships with our parents; that our avatars, the player characters, can then overcome, showing our actual selves the first step towards making peace and healing our troubled psyches through a fictionalized and abstracted allegory. The triumph over the Dark Side, the defeat of the Empire and its authority, and reunion between father and son seen at the end of Return of the Jedi sums up the Star Wars experience in a brief moment. Your Star Wars RPG adventures should do the same.

About C. Steven Ross

C. Steven Ross is the founder of Triumph & Despair. View all posts by C. Steven Ross

6 responses to “What makes a Star Wars adventure?

  • James Garr

    Your first point is something I hadn’t considered, but I agree with it, and believe you’re dead on right on all three counts.

    I would add a fourth element to your three points, and that’s mystery. When things and characters are explained too thoroughly (midi-chlorians for example) some of the magic is lost. I feel that there needs to be some mystery in every Star Wars tale, some element of uncertainty in how and why things work, and who people really are. These mysteries can be resolved in time, but part of the fun is wondering about things like what is under Vader’s mask, what the heck is going on in the cave on Dagobah, which side is Lando Calrissian on, etc.

    • C. Steven Ross

      James, that is an excellent point and I wholeheartedly agree with you. I take that idea and run even further with it, denouncing galactic maps, encyclopedias, and any other nonsense that tries to codify and explain that magical, fantastical universe of wonder.

  • Michael Pfaff

    James and Steven, I wonder if the concepts of the “used future” and “mystery” might sometimes be interconnected. The suggestion that an object like a lightsaber, for example, has been in use for decades/by Luke’s father, makes me, as a viewer of the movies, more likely to accept that this object simply works, although the exact physics behind it remain unclear.

  • Maveritchell

    I think that what you’ve described here are some things that make the Original Trilogy good, not things that make for the definitive Star Wars experience.

    If you’re going to insist that a good Star Wars story deals with “rebellion against authority” and “inner struggle with our personal dark side,” then on the “very specific” end of that scale, you’re asking for basically a rehash of the Episodes IV-VI story. If you’re looking at the vaguer end of the scale, then you’ve just described “external conflict” and “internal conflict,” which are basic driving forces of any story.

    And if you’re too locked down on those specific themes, you throw the baby out with the bathwater. There has been some great media in the past thirty years that fits a lot closer to the “Edge of the Empire” setting than the original Star Wars, which was about a Special Chosen One and his battle with Destiny. Media like:

    -Stackpole/Allston’s X-Wing series
    -Shadows of the Empire
    -Dark Forces
    -Knights of the Old Republic I/II

    Those all deal with fringe elements making an impact on a larger galaxy while larger events simply revolve around something else (with perhaps the exception of the final entry, which is more of an example of a special character like Luke, albeit not tied in the “rebellion” theme).

    And all that said, Star Wars is – and always has been – more about style than substance. That’s not bad! It just means that it’s a great, creative wrapper for a whole slew of stories. The original trilogy isn’t any great shakes, thematically. It’s a sight to behold, and you’re definitely on the mark with the “used universe” component as being a big part of this (however, the interviewee you disagree with doesn’t disagree with you here, it would seem). The story and themes in the original movies are simple for – what I would assume – a good reason: giving us the chance to live in a visually exciting, deep universe. And that’s all I think the “Beyond the Rim” designer was getting at.

  • J. Wiest

    Really appreciate the article and thoughts, I think you nailed it. Also like the mystery comment.

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