(This series has, at worst, extremely minor spoilers for The Force Awakens, but if you were worried about that, you’d have probably seen it by now, right?)
The Red Letter Media review of The Force Awakens made a good point about the new movie: that before the prequels, one could actually assume that Luke’s training was only slightly atypical (that Jedi training usually starts out in the early teens, perhaps, rather than with tiny children). This reminded me of a game I’ve been wanting to run for a while (nearly a decade!): a prequel-era game that totally ignores the information in the prequels (and, really, any information that doesn’t come from episodes 4-6). Instead, the game would reconceive of everything in the backstory based on worldbuilding done during the original trilogy.
To that end, I first off had to figure out what facts were actually in the original trilogy. I’m working off of a list of hastily-assembled notes I made while rewatching the movies, and this series will expand on some of the material in the linked document.
Some overall impressions, before diving in:
- Did most of the last names come first from the merchandising? There’s a surprising dearth of recognizable last names in the film, unless I just totally missed them. I don’t think you can know that Owen and Beru have the last name Lars, or Leia’s is Organa, without some kind of secondary material. When did The Emperor become Emperor Palpatine… was it after the prequels?
- The original films are actually pretty light on wacky words. Tarkin is called “Governor” rather than “Grand Moff.” Jedi take pupils or apprentices, not “Padawans.” I’m not sure where the profusion of nouns started, but it wasn’t the core movies; they tended to use a reasonable English word rather than inventing a new one if the concept was at all similar.
- It’s pretty well known that the expanded materials really overcharged lightsaber battles, but it’s surprising just how limited Force powers are. We’ve gotten so used to Force-pushing down whole legions and other telekinesis-stunts that it’s hard to square with how little supernatural stuff even experienced Jedi like Kenobi, Yoda, and Vader do.
- The Force Awakens, overall, does a much better job of staying in line with the power-levels and tech of the original trilogy than the prequels ever did.
- The movies have always been story-first, seat-of-the-pants creations where continuity, travel-times, and other internal logic took a back seat to what was cool at the moment. For example, I’ve heard a few nitpicks about how JJ Abrams doesn’t know how big space is, but the distances involved in the original trilogy weren’t much longer or at all realistic to how an actual galaxy would be laid out.
Anyway, let’s start looking at some overall categories in the order I think of them. Remember, we’re ignoring the prequels, the EU, merchandising, and novelizations for this breakdown. This is a thought experiment where we only have the DVDs of episodes 4-6, and we’re having to establish everything else from context.
The Family Skywalker
Does anyone really believe that there was a grand plan for Vader to be secretly the father of twin siblings, Luke and Leia, from the first movie? In order to actually make that work, you have to assume that Obi-Wan’s tendency to say things that are only true “from a certain point of view” extends to pure fabrication, and that Vader is the most unobservant father in the galaxy. Using the prequels makes this way worse, of course, but it’s hard to square the facts even in the originals (almost as if things were being retconned as Lucas had better ideas).
There are some very definite statements made, which have sizable implications:
First, it’s not clear how Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are actually related to Luke. Is one of them Anakin’s sibling (it could even be Owen, if you ignore the “Lars” surname as non-core and assume he’s Owen Skywalker)? Luke’s mother’s? Or are they just trusted family friends/godparents (a couple of my best friends’ kids call me “Uncle”) that would have grudgingly taken “orphaned” Luke? Obi-Wan does make a significant point that Owen knew Anakin way back when and didn’t think he should have gotten involved in the wars, and is worried that Luke will get lured off on another one of Kenobi’s “damn-fool idealistic crusades.” It would be logical, but I don’t even think it was strongly implied, that they’ve always lived on Tatooine: if you’re going to steal your recently-evil friend’s son, not change the last name, and foster the child with his close relatives, one would think at the very least you’d get them to move.
Second, somehow Leia wound up a princess. Now, obviously royalty in a galaxy far, far away could work differently than it does on Earth, but let’s assume it doesn’t for a second. Leia’s “father” that she references several times in A New Hope is presumably a king, or at least a prince, on Alderaan. It’s unclear whether he’s the king of Alderaan, or the planet has multiple kingdoms, but, regardless, “princess” is a pretty important royal title. If there’s any level of scheming peerage on the planet, it would be extremely hard to take in a woman and her baby girl and just be like, “This is my daughter, Leia. She’s princess now.” It only takes one angry cadet line of royalty upset at getting bumped down in the succession to raise a stink that the Empire might hear about. Leia remembers her real mother, even though she died when Leia was very young. Did she marry into the royalty of Alderaan and pass Leia off as the legitimate daughter of the new husband? Did she hide in the court in some other capacity and somehow substitute Leia for the true legitimate daughter? Did Anakin just straight up seduce a queen and not realize he got her pregnant? Somehow Vader never associated the woman he got pregnant with the headstrong young princess and senator he clashed with.
Finally, the prequels just straight up butchered the implications about Obi-Wan and Anakin’s friendship in favor of a little kid excited about pod racing. Obi-Wan actually paints a very clear picture of a young man (probably about Luke’s age) that he met and thought he could train. A war was going on, and Anakin had ideals that Owen disagreed with, probably already on a path to get involved even before Obi-Wan showed up to take him on a crusade. Anakin was a great pilot when they met (implied to be a pilot like Luke, not a pod racer or whatever). Obi-Wan thought he could train Anakin as well as Yoda, but was wrong. The mental picture is of two friends bonded by their ideals and the Force that go off together to fight a war, one of whom is overconfident about his abilities as a teacher such that the other is not properly protected against the Dark Side. But before that happens, the duo fights and romances their way across a galaxy at war.
It is, of course, that mental picture that makes me want to run a reconceived game in the first place.
(Continued in Part 2)