Last week’s post talked about the tech that’s present in the original trilogy, and how difficult it is to convert to the kind of consistent, predictable technology that players crave in their worldbuilding. Today, I’m presenting a Doylist framework for figuring out what technology/tech functionality to allow and disallow in a Star Wars game. Let me just go ahead and summarize it real quick, then explain in more depth:
If it would make sense in a pulp action-adventure novel set in Earth’s South Pacific in the early 20th Century, it makes sense translated to Star Wars.
Lucas’ inspiration for Star Wars was inarguably all varieties of pulp from the early 20th Century, as well as Kurosawa films. The influence is so significant that you could back-translate the entire original trilogy into a slightly alt-universe, pro-mystic adventure novel set around 1905 in the islands near Japan, and you’d have to change basically nothing but the sets and props.
The biggest difference that requires a slight alt-universe is the omnipresent Empire, but it’s not actually that much of a stretch. Assume either British imperialists deciding to take over Japan through Indonesia along with their escapades in China and India, or the government of the Meiji Restoration deciding to expand past the original borders of Japan. They’re not culturally diverse; the non-humans of Star Wars are different island cultures that have been co-opted by the Empire, and non-Imperial humans are just immigrants from the motherland that identify more with their new homes than with their home culture. Droids are the lowest caste, and the blatant acceptance of heroes with slaves in their retinue is overlooked at the time but not the proudest moment for readers looking back on the stories.
Draw in disenfranchised Samurai, probably with some elements of other Asiatic mystic warrior groups like Shinobi and Kung Fu Monks, with exactly the kind of provable mystic powers that would show up in an adventure novel, and you have Jedi. Force powers and lightsaber duels are ninja tricks and katana battles without even having to squint hard.
Now look at small island nations in the earliest days of the 1900s. Plane travel is still a few years out, but other methods of transportation are clustered in a way they never will be again: gas, steam, and wind all power ships with different speeds and advantages to get from island to island, and local travel is at least as likely to be on animal back as on a powered automobile.
Weapons tech is similarly muddled. Firearms are widespread, and powerful enough to shoot through armor, but the soldiers of the Empire may still encounter enough opponents armed with slings and arrows that it’s worthwhile to keep wearing standardized protection. Almost nobody bothers with melee weapons anymore… except those mysterious wandering monks that are so skilled they can bring a katana to a gunfight and come out ahead (they’re so fast they can cut bullets out of the very air!).
A young farmboy who’s a fair hand at sailing lives with his aunt and uncle on a desert island deep in the sea, more of a haven for pirates and smugglers than honest folk. When his family is killed, he takes his new mentor and new servants to try to reunite them with the princess who sent for aid. To get there, they’ll need help from a pirate and his decrepit but fast smuggling ship. Yet when they arrive, they find that the Empire has rolled out a new weapon: an island-sized ship that can quickly launch enough ordinance to reduce an entire city-state to rubble from the harbor and ignore the weapons of the defenders. Now they’re in a race to get the secrets of the base back to a hidden island of rebels and launch a fleet of fast-moving boats that might evade its guns and shoot torpedoes into its engines. All the while, the young man’s training as the last Ronin is dogged by a threatening black-clad former Samurai who threw in with the very Empire that exterminated his brethren.
Let’s look at a few obvious technology translations:
- Blaster – Gun: They punch through armor and are becoming extremely reliable and available, quickly changing the face of warfare that was using bows, single-shot muskets, and swords a few decades earlier.
- Comlink – Short Wave Radio: Still in its technological infancy and easily jammed and corrupted, but able to reach far across the South Pacific.
- Lightsaber – Katana: People still seriously argue about the legendary sharpness of katana; in pulp from a century ago, they’re easily attributed with even wilder properties.
- Starship – Ship: Heavily armored ships likely use diesel engines, but steamships and even sailboats may still be in common use to get from island to island. Ships may commonly have a diesel engine to go somewhere really fast, and sails for local travel, in the same parallels as hyperspace and sub-light engines.
With all of these in mind, the least-plausible tech from the original trilogy makes sense in context. Ships can get virtually anywhere in a few hours, because we’re just in the South Pacific, not in a whole galaxy. Tractor beams? Sure, because a bigger ship could shoot grapples at a smaller ship it wanted to board. Tightly packed asteroid field, and you can hide in one and get out of your ship without an EVA suit? It makes sense if it’s just a rough patch of sea studded with detritus and tiny islands. Blowing up a whole planet makes much more sense if you’re just wiping out a large city.
Essentially, if you want to know if a piece of technology would fit into a Star Wars game, just imagine whether an early-1900s analogue would have a place in a semi-realistic pulp novel. If the capabilities imparted by the tech would cause a scientifically literate reader pause, then it’s too weird. If you think it would fit, now you just have to remember to have its sci-fi translation interact with all the other translations in a plausible manner (e.g., if you could break the “real” piece of tech by shooting it with a gun, then you can break the Star Wars tech by shooting it with a blaster).
Additionally, accepting this idea works fine with The Force Awakens and real timetables. The differences in tech between episodes 6 and 7 are the same 30 year timeskip: if it would make sense in a spy thriller set immediately before WWII in the same alt-history pulp world, then it makes sense in the timeline of the new movies.
Similarly, doing the same transformation backwards, Obi-Wan and Anakin would be young men in the mid-late 1800s… which would be smack dab in the middle of the Meiji Restoration and the Opium Wars. And both of those might provide ample ideas for the alternate prequel-era backstory that I’ll start laying out next week.