Thursday, December 17, 2015

What's Cool About Star Wars

With a new Star Wars film here by hands other than George Lucas, I felt it was worth revisiting an old post, and again considering (beyond childhood nostalgia): 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.
Star Wars eliminates the problem of having to give up jetpacks for swashbuckling by putting them both together! And this is not a bad idea. The incoherence that would be created by aviators wearing swords is resolved by giving the swords only to a select group (the jedi)--this was an innovation discovered by accident, it seems. Lucas' early drafts had "laserswords" being more commonly used.

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 a sort of Orientalism (more or less). This exoticness 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).

The last piece, is latter 20th 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.


Anonymous said...

That is na excellent short analysis of the background elements of Star Wars. Quite though provoking.

evangineer said...

This is the most helpful breakdown of Star Wars that I have ever read.

Definitely the first place to turn if you want to do your own remix of the Star Wars background beats.

Trey said...

Thanks. Glad it's helpful!