I have a complicated relationship with games set in established universes. On the one hand I yearn to experience further some of my favorite stories but on the other hand these types of things often have elements that work very well in a book or movie form but heavily stifle the way we run games. Material such as Herbert’s Dune, Lucas’s Star Wars, Wachowski’s The Matrix, Rowling’s Harry Potter and Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, novels that provide incredibly interesting settings, often rely heavily on the trope of the chosen one, a single being whose existence is the reason for the story even existing and while some of the settings function fine without their protagonist most of them suffer from having the most intriguing parts of the plot so intrinsically tied to its main character as to be hollow without its presence. I want to address certain issues I have with the roleplaying setting of the Star Wars universe, chosen because I enjoy the mechanics of its game system, and how I think they might be made more enjoyable through alterations to its established canon.
Galactic Scale Never Seemed So Small
The main problem I have with the Star Wars universe is that it makes events with galaxy wide repercussions hinge on pretty small scale conflicts. Yes, the Death Stars were huge but their destruction should only slow down the Empire’s plan for complete domination – not reverse it. Imperial worlds would still be fortified, Imperial fleets would still be patrolling its hyperlanes and Imperial agents would still be rooting out Rebel scum. The Empire was depicted as a vast bureaucracy and would no doubt keep on trudging along with some sort of military junta government if the Sith were removed from its head.
I propose that the Empire is not as galaxy wide as depicted. The Hutts control a large amount of space, maybe there are still pockets of the old Confederacy of Independent Systems holding several systems around their older fleet bases, the Corporate Sector Authority is larger and more robust than previously indicated and there are several independent alien races who have never joined the Republic or been subjugated by the Empire. The Empire would still be the largest political entity in the galaxy but would still need to tread lightly as it would be crushed if all the other governments joined forces against it. This gives you the option of playing politics by pitting governments or factions against each other or to stage smaller wars as the Imperial war machine needs more resources for fuel. You could also run adventures based on conflicts between some of the lesser powers that the heroes have to defuse before the predatory spectre of the Empire takes note and swallows up the depleted lesser powers.
Another factor is the nature of the hyperlane network. A galaxy has millions of stars but to jump to hyperspace you have to follow carefully plotted paths to avoid things such as the gravity wells of stars and planets as well as other stellar phenomena – even a pebble could pose real danger. Thus the Empire, even if covering most of the galactic core, is only made up of about a few hundred or thousand inhabited planets and moons. There could be an entirely different galactic civilisation hidden within the galactic core with its own hyperlane network and no one would be any wiser, until a hapless explorer finds that one lane between the two networks causing these two powers to come into conflict.
Always Two There Are
My other main problem is with the frequency of beings able to use the Force and how quickly they seemed to die out during Palpatine’s Purge. Not only did the Jedi reject anyone found to be Force sensitive after a certain age but the likelihood of them finding every Force sensitive being in the first place is preposterous. Sure most of these would have relatively low powers, being able to read other people’s emotions or slightly nudge the probabilities of a game of Sabbac to your advantage sure is helpful out in the sprawling galaxy but it does not a Jedi make and as such would probably escape scrutiny and recruitment. This is not to say these individuals would not be able to pick up the Jedi arts, just that the standards of the order were so strict that most Force sensitive beings either failed to live up to them or were found too late to be indoctrinated fully into the order and were thus rejected. But these people would still be around with their limited ability. Some no doubt would have enough talent to form their own little groups teaching each other what they have learned or lording over lesser beings, exchanging artifacts plundered from ruins of ancient orders such as the Jedi or the Sith and even being exposed to alien cultures with radically different views on the living Force then the masters of the past.
So I have never been a big fan of there being only two Sith and two Jedi in the original trilogy. I want the Empire to have several smaller Dark Side orders competing for Emperor Palpatine’s favor within Imperial hireachracy. Some would be crazed marauders hunting the space lanes for Rebels and rogue Jedi in small packs, fueled by anger and hate but possessing little skill in anything but their crude lightsabers. Others could be scholars, plumbing the depths of the Dark Side for esoteric Force knowledge from the ghosts of past masters of arts lost to time and the void.
These could be opposed by renegade Jedi who had already left the temple on Coruscant and weren’t generals and as such did not die during Order 66. Each of these can have a different reason to have abandoned the order during the Clone Wars but every one of them would carry the shame and regret of his or her abandonment of the Jedi order during the crisis. Could they have made a difference, stopped Vader or detected Palpatine before it was too late? These Jedi could either set up small schools on out of the way planets hoping that the Force and destiny brings them the students they need or travel the universe in search of those that need their training and support. These roving Jedi could drop into a world on a chartered ship, identify several beings able to learn to manipulate the Force, give them basic training and crystals to build their lightsabers and then point them towards some injustice they would like rectified before moving on for the next planet. Or they could bring their students with them for a more hands on approach. But a lightsaber would only be foreign for a teenage moisture farmer in the desert of Tatooine.
The Force Is In Every Living Thing…But Mostly White Guys
In the original trilogy the ranks of the Jedi and the Sith are not the most diverse group. Apart from Yoda the gender and complexion of the Jedi is very monochrome. This gets a little better in the prequel trilogy but the Jedi Council still suffers from this lack of diversity and it reverberates throughout the setting. I have only one thing to say here. Do better.
All In The Family
Finally, I want to point out the shadow that looms large over the galaxy. Skywalker. Nothing happens without a Skywalker there. Or so it would seem from the movies. This translates very badly over to a roleplaying setting where the player characters are, and should be, the main protagonists. The fact that Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker share a familial bond lessens the use you get out of Vader as a villain for your campaign unless you seriously fudge around with either the interpersonal dynamics of the characters in question or the events of the movies themselves. Vader is a form of the chosen one – the arch-nemesis, a figure of evil so central to the plot that no other evil compares or even exists without him. It’s the same with Voldemort in the Potterverse and Sauron in Lord of the Rings, a evil so central and connected to the story of the protagonist that to ignore it is to ignore the whole setting. That leaves you two choices as a storyteller, move the story away from the Skywalkers, either in location or time, or cut them out of the story entirely, a pretty messy surgery on such a bloated patient. No matter what trick you use I think it is best to excise the Skywalker family from your plot and focus on your own stories in another corner of the sprawling Empire. The points I have made should make it easier to shift the focus elsewhere for an enjoyable experience and a successful campaign without the shadow of Skywalker hanging over your every story.
There are few things I love more then the Star Wars setting. But even things you love need a cold, hard and critical look sometimes. Do not be afraid to look for and change what you need to make it suit your needs. It will in the end make you a better storyteller, better able to build on the rich foundation brought to us from the wealth of material across almost all forms of entertainment. May the Force be with you… always.