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.
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.
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.