To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.
Part Three: Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game
In 1987, you would’ve been forgiven if you thought Star Wars was over. It’d been four years since Return of the Jedi came out, and Marvel Comics’ series ended the year before. George Lucas was clearly more interested in continuing the adventures of Indiana Jones than anything in a galaxy far, far away. And, yet, the second great age of Star Wars was about to begin. That year, a small game company called West End Games released a core rulebook and sourcebook for a tabletop roleplaying game set in the Star Wars universe.
Over the next decade, West End put out dozens of sourcebooks, adventures and guides that became not only the connective tissue of what became known as the Expanded Universe, but also Star Wars’ official canon. The background of so much lore that we take for granted came not from George Lucas, but the writers at West End Games who named those tube-headed aliens “Twi’liks”, described the Millennium Falcon as a YT-1300 manufactured by the Corellian Engineering Corporation and introduced the Jedi Code as a core part of the background of the Jedi Knights. Even Aurebesh as we know it now, the official fake space language of this very blog, was a creation of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A few years later, writers Timothy Zahn and Tom Veitch would use WEG’s source material as background for their own Star Wars stories, and with the release of Heir to the Empire and Dark Empire, Star Wars roared back to life for a whole new generation of fans to discover.
And as a game, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game is terrific fun. The rules are simple to learn, and the game is quick to play. All you need is a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a handful of regular six-sided dice. The better your character is at something the more dice they roll; the higher they roll, the better the result. And that’s the core rule of the game. Armed with that knowledge, new players can hit the ground running, and experienced players can pull off spectacular feats worthy of heroes from the movies.
This top five list started when a friend asked what my favorite Star Wars stories outside the movies are. As I thought about it, I realized that many of the adventures told around a table by me and my friends would be on that list: the time Thrusty, bloody, beaten and a hair’s breadth from death, absolutely would not give up the fight; the time Ket whacked Tomar upside the head with a baseball bat; the time Darth Vader cut off Aruul’s arm; and countless other dumb, wildly unauthorized, wholly non-canonical and fun stories that are as big a part of our Star Wars experience as anything in any official movie, book or comic. I still love WEG’s Star Wars RPG for being a game that allows some of my favorite people to gather ’round and tell those stories to each other.
After West End Games went out of business, first Wizards of the Coast and now Fantasy Flight Games published more Roleplaying Games based on the Star Wars license. I’ve dabbled in both, but my heart remains with the old West End Games RPG. Over the years, I’ve gotten to interact and occasionally meet some of the people who designed the game, and I’ll always be thankful for their work. Growing up I loved reading comics and throwing action figures at each other, but the Star Wars RPG is something I could play and share with friends. And that simply cannot be beat.
Next week: “Then just say it: You’re a tracer!”