I've had many discussions over the years with various friends about what is "wrong" with the Star Wars films--and there are a lot of things. Mainly though, they boil down to bad writing. Well more completely stated it's: Lucas isn't a good writer compounded by the fact that Lucas isn't a good director of actors.
It's no accident that the best of the Star Wars Saga, The Empire Strikes Back, was at least partially written by Leigh Brackett--someone who surely knew how to write.
But anyway, that's a topic for another blog, maybe. I'm not interested in revisitng the hate, but in accentuating the positive, to wit: What's good about Star Wars? And what's good that might be applicable to gaming?
To me, the core "good thing" is that Star Wars melds together two predominant forms of sci-fi adventure media (I specify this as it has very little to do with science fiction as a literary genre--even the science fiction sub-genre space opera only shares a few similarities with Star Wars until after Star Wars enters the public Zeitgeist).
The two types are:
- Euro-style daring-do: This is sword-fights, castles, and princess-kidnapping villains. Like John Carter or Flash Gordon. The action and plots resemble The Prisoner of Zenda, and the latter-day stories can be seen as sort of allegories for young America interacting with the Old (decadent) World (Burroughs' The Mad King, comes to mind)..
- "the flyboy" or square-jawed aviator tale: This is rockets and jetpacks, leather helmets and robots. This is like Buck Rogers, and Burroughs' Beyond the Farthest Star, and any number of serials--and both aviation and science fiction pulps at times. A purer modern example would be Sky Captain.
But this still isn't all of Star Wars. Lucas lacquered it with Japanese exoticism by cribbing design, plot elements, and character from Kurosawa. Shooting in Tunisia, and having an expert in African languages provide him with Greedo's lingo and Jabba's Huttese further lathered on the exoticism. So another element of Star Wars is what we might think of as a sort of chinoiserie (if I can be allowed to somewhat misappropriate a term, when a better one doesn't exist). This is probably the element of Star Wars that I most think about playing up when I've though "How could Star Wars be better?" This would lead to a Star Wars more like Dune, or most likely, more like a Heavy Metal story (or the Star Wars (and Dune) inspired Metabarons).
We're not done yet. The last piece, is latter century Americana. The original trilogy can't escape its 70s vibe, in some ways. Some of that is accidental no doubt--an artifact of when it was made. Other parts--primarily cut scenes of Luke and his teen friends--transplant American Graffiti car-culture to Tattooine. Episode II even gives us a 50s style diner! These elements are wholly Star Wars and not found in really any of its progenitors or imitators that I'm aware of (One Han Solo novel in the late seventies gives us an explicit disco, as well!).
So how might this be used in gaming? Well, I know that if I was looking to create my own Star War-ish space opera/science fantasy campaign, I'd look to these elements to make sure I got it right. Also, I think these can kind of be used like dials--one could turn down the elements one didn't like in Star Wars, while cranking others to eleven. If you want more Dune, play up the "exoticness," and chunk the Americana; more Sky Captain, means more swooping spaceships and fewer swords or Samurai movie borrowings. If one wanted Star Wars that didn't feel like Star Wars, eliminating two, or perhaps even just one, of the elements above would probably do it.