Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Problem with Star Wars... that it's a schizophrenic mess.

Regardless of your feelings on the original trilogy or the prequels or the "expanded universe" and all its minutia...regardless, one has to acknowledge that there is simply a metric ton of Star Wars "stuff" floating around our small, terrestrial sphere. So much that it's just about impossible to reconcile all of the data into one coherent whole.

From a certain point of view, it's very similar to the hodge-podge that is Dungeons & Dragons.

I mean, there's no way in which D&D "makes sense" as a collective whole...not if you include everything it has to offer. It's simply it's "own thing," allowing players to explore a bizarre fantasy mishmash of tropes. Just as Star Wars allows the reader (or viewer) to lose him or herself for a few hours (or more) in the fantastic imagination of Lucas and those creative folks who have built on his premise.

Anyway, I suppose it's not really a problem unless you're trying to put together a reference book that makes sense of the whole thing (I'm not), or if you're a super-stickler for including EVERYthing in your canon (um...I'm really not), or if you're trying to write a space opera RPG that includes the material of the films/books (much of which is neat) and yet in a way that is cheesy and doesn't suck when taken as a whole (okay, that's me a little).

As I pursue my Star Wars research I find myself feeling similar to the way I felt when I was first rediscovering the Moldvay and Cook/Marsh books and this thing I call B/X D&D. At that time I became enamored of the promise of the original B/X books...and it was this promise that led me to writing the B/X Companion, seeking to fulfill that promise.

With Star Wars it is much harder to get past the periphery of extraneous source material because, A) there is so much of it, and B) most of it (especially the films) have been watched so many times that they've become engrained into our understanding of what Star Wars is.

I mean, just look at the original trilogy...the 2nd movie (The Empire Strikes Back) is excellent and the 3rd movie (Return of the Jedi) had many, many crowd-pleasing a child I would have been quick to tell you that RTJ was my favorite of the bunch; though as an adult I have probably watched it far fewer times than even the prequel movies. And for many people who absolutely loathe the "expanded universe" and prequel films, the Holy First Trilogy is the only canonical source material they need...we know that Vader is Luke's father, Leia is Luke's sister, Yoda is the master Jedi, the Emperor is the master bad guy, and our heroes are destined to do certain things: Luke to become a Jedi Knight, Han and Leia to get hitched, etc.

And maybe this (or most of it) was ALWAYS the case in Lucas's mind. It's hard to tell when Lucas has ret-conned his own thoughts on the subject over the years. But in reading the BOOK Star Wars ("A Novel by George Lucas"), I find myself wondering how much of this was originally the case.

Much of the material found in the (admittedly clunky writing) of the novel is not found in the movies, was cut-out, or is in direct contradiction to what would later become canon material. Which is not a new phenomenon when reading Star Wars books anyway (Timothy Zahn's trilogy sequel which explained "the Clone Wars" was completely and wholly different and rendered inconsequential with Lucas's own prequel films, for example); I am used to that, as most readers/enthusiasts of Star Wars are. However, what I find in that material is a brilliant imagination and (similar to Moldvay/Cook/Marsh) the promise of something that never really materialized. I find myself interested in the Journal of the Whills as originally imagined by Lucas, and wish there had been...well, more of what his original ideas were.

Because there is some brilliant stuff in there, I think, and much of it feels much harder edged to me than the later stuff. Like the Lensmen novels but more mature and darker and on a much more personal scale. I wish there was a way to get hold of Lucas's original notes or original treatment of the script, before it was cut down to the movie with which we ended up.

Those who've read some of my earlier posts on the subject may know me as a bit of an apologist for George Lucas as a film maker and fantasist. This has nothing to do with that. I mean, I am still high on GL as a film maker and SciFi guru. BUT in writing a space opera RPG that takes the Star Wars universe as its central inspiration (which I've been doing off-and-on for several years now), I find the necessary editing is forcing me to take hard looks at just what's included in any such game. Do I want Jedi Knights in all their Episode I through III glory? (and yes, they are glorious in those films) Or do I want the PROMISE of the original Grand Idea and allow individual players to decide how far they want to take it? Right now, I find myself being drawn to the latter, despite my love of lightsaber duels.

Hmm...I know I've had similar thoughts over the years, but I can't seem to find where I've noted it in my blog. Well, now it's been noted. More later...those familial obligations are calling again!


  1. I'm excited to see where this post is going in relation to the "promise" which is B/X.

  2. Star Wars is the only part that was written/filmed on it's own merits. Everything else was written as a part of something else. In other words, Star Wars is pure; everything else has ulterior motives.

  3. One of my back-back-back-burner projects is a Star Wars campaign that only takes the original film as canon, and goes from there. One day!

  4. I'm certain there are at least samples or excerpts of Lucas' developement notes somewhere. Just can't think of where I have seen them right now. Maybe Star Wars Galaxy magazine?
    Details probably got a little confused from the very first movie. The way I understand it, Lucas wanted to do a series, at least a trilogy, but wasn't sure if there would be sequels at all.
    So some stuff, like the death star, got shoehorned in that one episode.
    I could be wrong, but I could swear I read that somewhere.
    And then there are the ideas from the Marvel comics and the later explosion of the expanded universe that have to be dealt with.

  5. Interestingly, Lucas didn't actually write the Star Wars book; SF novelist Alan Dean Foster ghost wrote it from Lucas's script.

  6. When you're a child, the massive plot holes and lack of continuity doesn't stand out to you at all. All you see is are the cool spaceships and lightsaber fights and wonder how long before Kenner puts out an action figure of that particular character. Thirty years later; however, you start to notice that things don't add up.

    IMHO, the entire Star Wars saga jumped the Sarlacc Pit with those famous words "No Luke, I am your father." It was all down hill from there: the second Death Star, teddy bears defeating Stormtroopers with clubs and arrows, Liea is really Luke's long lost twin sister... All culminating in the abomination that was the Prequel trilogy: Anniken as a boring 9-year-old wunderkind, celibate Jedi, Yoda bouncing around with a lightsaber, midichlorians, Padame dying in childbirth because she "lost the will to live," and the intellect-insulting horror that was Jar Jar Binks.

  7. Once I read about this dude, Leland Chee, whose job it is to keep track of the "levels" of Star Wars canon. These levels of canon are divided out and ordered from most canonical to least canonical. I'd try to explain it in further detail, but I'm pretty sure it would cause me to have a brain aneurysm, and I don't want to die face down on my keyboard.

    Looking forward to your further B/X work.

  8. Just before the prequels came out SFX magazine did quite an in-depth examination of pre-Star Wars Star Wars, with all the Starkiller stuff. Good luck finding that one though!

  9. @ Desert Scribe: Yes, I was aware of that. That being said, it is"undiluted" by the material that came thereafter (and originally, my understanding is that Foster's "Splinter of the Mind's Eye" was supposed to be the sequel to the original film).

    @ Kelvin: I've still been meaning to pick up that book, "The Secret History of Star Wars," but just haven't had a chance yet. The family life has been pretty busy of late.

  10. So, in other words, SW is original D&D, ESB is B/X, ROTJ is 1e/2e, and the prequels are 4e? :)

  11. I highly recommend anyone interested in this topic to check out The Secret History of Star Wars

  12. After reading your post I had another look at the d6 Star Wars role-playing game. It's surprising how little explanation of the setting there is in the rule book. It's more like it assumes you know the setting, then tells you how to turn that into rules (for example "here are the stats for an Ewok").

  13. This version of the scripts includes extensive annotations explaining the original script treatments and drafts. However, The Secret History of Star Wars has a much more complete version of those notes.

  14. The easiest and most complete (from a gaming standpoint) Star Wars reference is to be found in the d6 1e Star Wars rpg, plus the Star Wars sourcebook. These two cover all the essential themes of the setting, giving an overall view without entering the details of the films.