One can’t go anywhere on the Geeky InterWebs this week without seeing the news that JJ Abrams has signed on to direct Star Wars: Episode VII. I have little to add to that discussion beyond a hope that the new Star Wars films will be more like the Original Trilogy and less like the Prequels or Clone Wars.
Star Wars is a very tightly controlled commercial media empire. From movies to books to TV to toys, every item released to the public is carefully selected to meet certain standards – even going as far as making changes to canon (Han shot first!). It seems to me that empire has aimed its marketing squarely at pre-teen boys – like my youngest. For evidence I will direct you to the entire Clone Wars series and the toys and other paraphernalia associated with it. I admit I actively promote Star Wars in my house, for I too love the toys and models and games. I also think RPGs are a valuable form of gaming and I want my kids to play and enjoy them. One way to get them to play an RPG is to use a familiar universe, like Star Wars.
Which makes the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game (SW: EotE) from Fantasy Flight Games puzzling to me. FFG certainly has a challenge; for success they need to show how their version is different – and better – than the West End Games (1987-1999) and Wizards of the Coast (2000-2010) versions. To do so, FFG appears to have tapped into a recent trend of the Star Wars commercial juggernaut – going bad. Other elements of the Star Wars media empire are trying to tap into this same vibe. Look at the upcoming video game Star Wars 1313 or Timothy Zahn’s newest Star Wars novel, Scoundrels. Both take place in “grim and gritty” places where the “morality is gray.” This is what is known in Star Wars as the “fringe;” the shady underbelly of society in which smugglers, bounty hunters, pirates, black marketeers, thieves, and assorted criminals operate.
The new FFG Star Wars RPG aims to land squarely in the fringe. As FFG says on their own website description for the game:
Participate in grim and gritty adventures in places where morality is gray and nothing is certain. Ply your trade as a smuggler in the Outer Rim, collect bounties on the scum that live in the shadows of Coruscant, or try to establish a new colony on a planet beneath the Empire’s notice.
My recently purchased Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Game illustrates this theme quite clearly. The four characters – a Bounty Hunter, Hired Gun, Smuggler and Colonist (what? – should be a Slave) – are fleeing gangster Teemo the Hutt who has an evil plan to take control of some illegal spice trade. The characters are morally challenged; a bounty hunter who is protecting her sister, the Wookie fighting for his people but was enslaved and forced to fight, a pilot who ran afoul of politically connected enemies, and a droid who just wants to be doctor. SW: EotE also takes place in the time period just after the Battle of Yavin from the original Star Wars (Episode IV – A New Hope for you hopeless young ones) – just like Scoundrels. In this time, the Galactic Civil War is heating up and there are very few Force users.
Personally, I like the setting. It reminds me of my old Classic Traveller adventures where all our characters were not heroes and lived on the edge of the Imperium trying to eek out an existence by staying one step ahead of the starship repo man or law enforcement authorities. We were mercenaries, pirates, and bounty hunters. We took the dirty jobs. We started bar fights for the fun of it. We didn’t use psionics since Han Solo had it right when he said, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” (Star Wars, 1977)
Which all taken together is exactly why I may not introduce my own kids to the FFG version of Star Wars roleplaying for a while. At least not the setting the game is using. As a parent bringing my kids into the world of RPGs, SW: EotE is not the setting I want them to play in. As much as I personally detest the Clone Wars, for kids it is a more straight-forward, good versus evil, Jedi versus Sith, world.
Part of my problem here is that I like the Core Mechanic and semi-narrative approach of SW: EotE better than other versions or hacks I have seen out there. I have the complete Saga Edition, but never liked the class approach to characters (not to mention having the game spread out over 14 books!). I have seen homebrew Savage Worlds or Cortex hacks…but all feel unfinished.
So in the end I am torn and will likely wait on the fence before investing further into SW: EotE until I see just how edgy this fringe really is.