If you haven’t read the last few posts, start here to get a more thorough explanation of the goals of this series. But, in short, I’m not a huge fan of the prequels in general, and, in specific, think they made worldbuilding choices that contradicted the much more interesting implications of the original trilogy. So I’ve long wanted to run a tabletop game set in a reimagining of the prequel-era more in line with the references I found interesting from episodes 4-6. For the purpose of this exercise, nothing is canon except the original three movies (and likely The Force Awakens, as it’s much more in line with 4-6), and I’ll pretend that episodes 1-3 and ancillary materials don’t exist.
The Technology of the Clone Wars
In line with last week’s post, I’m assuming that the technology of the Star Wars galaxy works well as analogue to a similar year in Earth’s history. Which is to say, if the original trilogy has technology that works as an analogue to the tech of the very early 1900s, the technology of the Clone Wars is an equivalent of the mid-late 1800s. Unlike the existing prequels (and very unlike the worldbuilding of The Old Republic), the galaxy is in the middle of a sustained technological revolution, and every generation has technology that’s mindblowing to the one before. However, unlike the last few decades on Earth, this progress still takes decades and is unevenly distributed; poorer and less connected locations still make due with tech that hasn’t been cutting edge for quite some time.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the era of the Clone Wars is in starship capabilities. The ships of the era are to the ships of the original trilogy as boats powered by sail and steam are to those powered by combustion engines. They can still get you where you’re going in a reasonable amount of time, but they are limited in different ways.
Let’s assume that the navicomputer-calculated hyperspace jumps of the original trilogy were a recent refinement of a long-proven technology equivalent to wind-power: well-established hyperspace lanes. The vast majority of the era’s ships get places by intersecting hyperspace in a known location and “settling into” the hyperspace channel to accelerate gradually up to speed. Unlike the original trilogy ships, they don’t jump to lightspeed in a frenetic burst as soon as the navicomputer is finished, but gradually get up to speed (and perform a similar slowing maneuver at their destination). We might as well also state that this is more or less what the “sub-light” engines of the original trilogy do: the Falcon can quickly go from Hoth, to Anoat, to Bespin with a busted hyperspace drive because even the basic propulsion of the ship allows it to dip into hyperspace and benefit from its violation of relativity.
The practical differences between these hyperspace “sailing” ships and the later versions are threefold:
- They take time to get up to speed (less than if they had to deal with g-force and relativity, but still meaningful amounts), thus it’s much harder to escape an encounter by jumping away. It takes a few moments to exceed the range of the big guns of non-accelerating ships, and a faster ship might catch you up and continue the fight as you get deeper into hyperspace. Mass of the ship is a still a component in acceleration, so smaller, lighter ships can often get up to speed much more quickly than larger, heavier ones.
- They are limited in the paths they can take to make the best speed. Moving within a system often involves “tacking against” the hyperspace channels, for reasonably quick travel to nearby planets, but, even then, ships with a more favorable vector might go further in the same amount of time. For long trips (such as those between systems), it’s almost unheard of to try going any way but via an established and well-recorded lane; it may well be faster to travel through multiple other systems to go to one that’s closer to your starting position. These lanes are all loaded into your ship’s computer, and there’s a lot of value for captains in having secret connecting routes that others don’t know about. Finally, it’s rare but a ship might suffer being the equivalent of becalmed: sometimes the boundaries between space and hyperspace mysterious thicken, and ships must use drastically slower engines that accelerate using normal physics to move until the problem ends.
- They are extremely fuel-efficient, and probably get almost all they need from solar power and other space-renewable sources; the engines have been in use for hundreds of years, and have been all but perfected in their elegance. A ship that isn’t damaged by an enemy or accident can stay in space as long as its food and life support holds out for the crew, though regular drydock maintenance is advised.
Meanwhile, the equivalent of steamships have been in use for over two generations. They follow a revolutionary new technology that allows the ship to enter hyperspace quickly and gain equal speed in virtually any direction. While superficially a huge advance over the existing technology, they have their drawbacks:
- The engines required are generally massive and require copious amounts of planet-mined fuel.
- They all have some chance of catastrophic overload when used too much, too quickly. Making them smaller and more fuel-efficient tends to increase this risk dramatically.
- The mechanism for ignoring the normal hyperspace routes is much faster “against the wind” but relatively slow compared to the fastest old-model ships on charted voyages.
- Thus, they tend to only be used for larger vessels (which would be slow to accelerate under the older tech regardless) and for large-scale hauling (where the advantage of taking a shorter route can make enough money to pay for the cost of fuel) or military uses (where full-axis maneuverability on a large vessel can be a huge advantage in warfare).
The development of the technology of the original trilogy-era ships occurs several years after the Clone Wars are decided, and is such an advantage over both previous technologies that it quickly begins to supplant it: it takes less fuel than the steamship equivalents and has much less danger of failing catastrophically, and moves faster than the sailboat equivalents in most situations, even in a favorable hyperspace lane.
Similar to the Edo period of Earth, prior to the Clone Wars the politics of the galaxy had not prioritized development of blaster technology (it was still considered a more civilized age, where the lightsaber saw use even by non-Jedi; see part 3 for that analogy). Much as Japan was still using matchlock muskets, then rapidly scaled up to flintlock and then cartridge-based guns, the era of the Clone Wars sees a massive arms race in the capabilities of blasters.
If the blasters of the original trilogy are equivalent to guns after magazines and rifling were worked out, the blasters immediately prior to the Clone Wars are single-shot, unrifled muskets. Their power consumption is high and their accuracy is low. Ammunition cells can only hold enough power for a shot or two before being swapped out (and the technology is so inelegant that detaching and reattaching a cell is a time-consuming process). The beam coherency is abysmal, particularly for blaster pistols, deforming as it flies and sometimes deflecting off of atmosphere. Combatants can often only get off a few shots a minute, and are easy prey for a melee combatant that can get into range. Lightsabers are, in fact, the apex of technology designed to try to ignore the blaster’s limitations: a constantly-regenerating wand of energy that can be more efficient in its power consumption and not have to worry about flight through the air.
But the Clone Wars will see the battlefield change drastically, as the newly risen Empire scoffs at the old politics and sees great advantage in rapidly improving the state of the art in blasters.
Other technology doesn’t see quite the same level of change between the Clone Wars and the original trilogy, but there are notable differences:
- Comlinks weren’t developed until after the Clone Wars, as they utilize some of the same new awareness of hyperspace needed for the upgraded ships after the era. Planetary communications use radio waves (much less efficient than broadcasting through hyperspace), which means they’re all but useless for inter-system communication. Some systems have managed highly expensive fixed-point hyperspace broadcasting channels (equivalent to the telegraph), but many cultures still rely on uploading communications to a ship heading in the right direction to be transmitted to the recipient on exiting hyperspace.
- Screens and holograms are slightly less refined, but are still very similar to their depictions in the original trilogy (just as popular entertainment didn’t have any massive technological shifts in the late 1800s… though one might expect a revolution in entertainment uses after the original trilogy to parallel the rise of film).
- Droids are equivalent to people, not technology, in the analogy, so are unlikely to see any major changes in their capabilities except where they incorporate other technologies.
- Speeders are equivalent to automobiles, so are probably completely nonexistent in the era of the Clone Wars. Planetary ground transportation probably involves much slower wheeled conveyances (along with the omnipresent beast mounts, which are often far superior to mechanized transport).
Anything not listed probably works more or less the same as in the original trilogy, unless you want to dive deeper into the non-warfare technological progress in the late 1800s and its equivalents than I want to in this format.
Next week, a slight digression into a different conception of using the Force, before part 3 starts the political worldbuilding in earnest.