I can’t easily explain how the lore of Star Wars has such a magnificent appeal. I may not be able to tell you how at all. However, I think I can tell you why it has that power. Consider the first movie audiences ever saw, Episode IV: A New Hope. Back then, it wasn’t even called a New Hope, it was just Star Wars. The saga was built on mystery. Many of fan’s first questions stemmed from every scene: What the hell were the Clone Wars? How did the Empire start? Who was Darth Vader? What were the Jedi like before Episode IV? What was that blue milk stuff they were drinking? There’s bounty hunters in space? What’s Tosche Station? What the hell is a Wookiee? Is Princess Leia seeing anyone?
(All growing Jedi need Bantha Milk)
Maybe not so much that last one, but the element of mystery permeated the series from the start. Soon after, the first film was re-released with the title Episode IV. Can you imagine seeing that for the first time 40 years ago? Mind blown! In the first few seconds, the audience finds out that they were missing three whole installments into the series and then Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back comes out and again only adds to the question, Emperor Palpatine is introduced (and played by a woman) and was probably the creepiest iteration of him ever. In Empire, we begin to get a bigger picture of the Force, and get the big reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father while the audience is introduced to three different planets (Hoth, Cloud City on Bespin, and Dagobah) as opposed to the two and a half (Tatooine, Yavin IV, and the Death Star) in A New Hope. Finally in Return of the Jedi, we’re (re)introduced to Jabba the Hutt and finally get the feel for the crime syndicate that is the Hutt Clan that we had heard so much about. We see Jabba feed a Twi’lek dancer to a rancor. Later on we are shown speeder bikes for the first time, we meet the Ewoks, and then at the finale of the film, meet Emperor Palpatine and we see the force lightning power. That only covers things we see in the scripts, not even the small bits of “Show and Don’t Tell” from all the environments.
(You’d have a hard time coming up with this kind of tavern scene on the fly)
Therein lies the appeal. It is by way of the vastness of these environments and stories, we are shown small pieces of this galaxy that has come to ensnared the fascination of many fans, and that I think that is exactly why the lore of Star Wars appeals to the fans the way it does. Good world building makes an observer want to know more. Around the time that Phantom Menace came out, I was eight years old, and I remember asking my dad who has also been a huge fan of Star Wars, if he knew why Darth Vader wore the black armor and respirator, etc. He accurately replied six years prior, that during the duel with Obi-Wan he fell into a volcano. As an eight-year-old the idea that my dad knew something about Star Wars that was, at the time, obscure was the coolest thing. Same guy bought me the DK Books Visual Star Wars Encyclopedia at the time even. Through that book, I became one of those nerdy kids who knew how a lightsaber worked and saw the cross section of one, knew who Dengar and IG-88 were, and knew the ins and out of Darth Vader’s armor. My questions being answered was so satisfying but I still wanted more. I grew up during a period where people weren’t on the internet constantly, so when information presented itself, it was fun. Double for anything Star Wars. In seventh grade, I met my match. Andy (@DM_Starhelm) loved Star Wars, probably more than I did and through him I discovered even more about the series I loved, much of it he gained by playing Knights of the Old Republic. He shared the same love of the details of Star Wars as I did, and shared his knowledge with me. However, I still haven’t played KOTOR… don’t hate me.
Exploring the Myth
Star Wars games like KOTOR, the novels, and the comics are awesome examples of how fans can engage with the Star Wars universe, er… Galaxy. By experiencing new stories, the scope of the Galaxy Far, Far Away increases. Ten years ago, I didn’t know who Darth Bane or Revan were, but by exploring I came to find out . Through our exploration we engage in the expansion of the mythos of the whole series. When I was in my first semester in college, the first event I went to was a showing of Return of the Jedi preceded by a lecture about how myth applies to Star Wars. Prior to that, I never realized how the two were connected. Star Wars may be a movie series but at its core it is made up of familiar elements of varying myths. Elements of Greek myth and Arthurian legend are incorporated into Star Wars whether we know it or not. Compare Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber to that of Excalibur. In many versions of the story of King Arthur, Merlin leads Arthur to Excalibur. Obi-Wan presents Luke with his lightsaber. From there the stories diverge, but the same lightsaber is used to signify the hero in each trilogy, Anakin to Luke to Rey. Each one of those characters is not just a human, but a hero. In Greek myth, heroes were essentially superheroes. If you look at the deeds of Anakin, Luke, and Rey this remains constant. This may be what makes Rogue One so “spooky” to watch. The characters in the movie are normal people. They aren’t force sensitive, except for Chirrut, and are pretty much normal people. The events in the Galactic Civil War are terrifying and show the gravity of the events. Even at the end of the film, we are shown a terrifying glimpse of what Darth Vader is really like through the eyes of normal people. He is, essentially, the classic black knight and a monster rolled into one. All the elements of myth are there. Myth is but a collective and collaborative imaginative story used for exploring ourselves and our own experiences through a fantasy medium.
All these elements I have discussed here are part of that story. These elements inspire people of all ages, give us common ground to stand on, and hold the mirror to ourselves. If you relate to a character, you’re not a dweeb, it is because you see the embodiment of your character traits in that myth. If you want to explore the setting of that mythos, you’re not weird, you have found something that appeals to you for a reason, and are looking for the creative outlet to do so. These same aspects are present in roleplaying games. In Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG, I got to play a Force User. I got to experience the turmoil of the Dark Side versus the Light and through that mythos I discovered things about myself I didn’t know. I went to Coruscant and could picture the bustling crowd in the night clubs. I made friends in the narrative and cared about them. (Shoutout to my boy, T4, our abducted Taxi droid.) With Andy behind the GM screen, this whole experience felt like Star Wars because of our love of this mythos and how he used it as a tool to craft our experience.
(Is it bad that I relate to Kylo Ren?)
This same power can be used when working in an original RPG setting or a pre-existing one. RPGs are literally our own hand on exploration of a set of lore and myth, allowing us to connect with those directly. To create an in depth feel, use the Star Wars method: don’t over explain, and “show and don’t tell”. The players can then uncover elements together at their own speed and even use that curiosity to further their understanding of the setting and and main plot. For instance, in my setting all sun elf elites carry a sunblade with a differing hilt (not unlike lightsabers), which could be interesting if I build around it. I don’t have to explain why just then and there when the players meet their first sun elf elite, but I should be prepared to give that answer, or at another point show the players more about it through dialogue and their own adventures. The information will later be self incorporating. If the players have met half a dozen sun elves and they know what to look for, they might simply know to ask, “Does this elf have a bladeless sword on his belt?” If a non-sun elf character has a sunblade, there may be ramifications that the players can piece together simply by having expanded upon that knowledge themselves. Regardless of what the instance is, by incorporating multidimensional aspects of a setting, players have more to work with and draw them in.
That’s exactly what Star Wars has done. Star Wars has granted its fans a depth to explore via their own medium and the main films are our entry point. If you think Captain Phasma is really cool, you can find out more about her. If you have no idea who Max Rebo is, you can find that out and know what happened to him after the events Return of the Jedi. (Spoiler: He became a restaurant owner on Coruscant). Star Wars appeals to us by offering depth like we would find in our own world, but with an element of the fantastic thrown in. Well kriff, looks like I did tell you how Star Wars does it. Though what I told you, from a certain point of view, was true. It can’t be easily explained.
If you liked this article, leave a comment here or on Twitter @Archmage_Derek, and tell me what you thought. Special thanks goes out to Pranks Paul from Never Tell Me the Pods for his absolute kindness and patience towards a padawan like me. You can find him @roguetldr and you can find Never Tell Me the Pods on iTunes, CastBox, and NeverTellMethePods.com.
See you soon. Happy gaming and may the Force be with you!