Planning a Different Star Wars Campaign

As of this writing, the final movie of the “Skywalker Saga” has just reached the theaters. 

The Rise of Skywalker has been met with mixed reviews, further dividing the fanbase between those who liked Abram’s movies and those who preferred Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. This has left Disney’s trilogy in an awkward position of being an uneven venture where most fans really don’t care for at least one of the films, and the final film further divided the fan base rather than bringing them together to celebrate their shared fandom. This arguably makes the sequel trilogy more problematic and uneven than the prequels: despite being comprised of stronger individual films, the lack of a cohesive story and planned narrative makes this trilogy weaker as a whole.

Regardless, the “Skywalker Saga” is over and Star Wars films are on hiatus. With Solo and The Rise of Skywalker failing to really expand beyond the domestic box office or hit the high of Force Awakens, future Star Wars films might be more modest in terms of budget and scope. Or the franchise my stick to the longform storytelling of television/ Disney+, following the lead of The Mandalorian and the planned Obi-Wan and Cassian Andor series.

All this makes now the perfect time to tell different types of campaign for the Star Wars roleplaying game, be it the older West End Games d6 system or the modern Fantasy Flight Games system. There’s an excellent opportunity to tell new stories or reimagine older stories with less worry about what’s coming next.

Breaking the Mold

Most Star Wars campaigns tend to be similar in structure. Either the heroes of the campaign are running around between the movies, setting-up the pieces for the heroes of the films to knock down, or they’re off to the side having adventures that kinda sorta matter, but don’t really. 

This is roughly the same formula Star Wars Rebels followed. The series showed a bit of backstory related to the founding of the Rebel Alliance, how certain heroes joined the Rebellion, and the like. Meanwhile, it also had the rebels of Phoenix Squadron liberate a previously unmentioned planet. They saved the day, but in a safe, confined way that didn’t impact the heroism of the movie heroes, diminishing their accomplishments. 

This is largely because Luke and company are still the big damn heroes. (Or Anakin/ Rey and company depending on the trilogy.) The big galaxy altering events are being done by someone else. The Player Characters are seldom allowed to make major changes to the status quo

But why not? 

In a world where the next few Star Wars films are years away and likely not galaxy altering, the PCs can completely change the galaxy. They can be the ones who fully defeat the remaining forces of the First Order and restore the Republic. Or they can be brave trailblazers (or local warlords) seizing power in the galaxy, following the dissolution of all major political figures in the galaxy. 

They can be the big damn heroes.

Episode X and Beyond

The obvious campaign is to ask what happens next. To tell the story of the Resistance following their victories in The Rise of Skywalker. Maybe the First Order is still around and a threat and maybe not. Maybe the Jedi Order is restored and maybe not. Maybe another Republic rises and maybe not.

Such a campaign could take place immediately after the current film or jump ahead a decade or two, so as to chronicle the adventures of the subsequent generation and their struggles with the recurring enemy of hatred and fascism emboldened by the Dark Side. 

Or the conflict of this trilogy could be something else entirely. Maybe it tells the tale of the inevitable droid revolution, forcing the PCs to pick a side between droid rights and the status quo. (Such a campaign could even answer the question posed by Triple-Zero in the excellent Darth Vader comic, of whether droids could use the Force if they drained someone’s blood.)

Advancing the timeline allows the players to have some buy-in regarding the setting and events, creating a galaxy they want to adventure in. A session zero where the players take turns outlining what happens next and generate conflict is a good idea, while simultaneously ensuring the players are familiar with the world and current events.

Restoring the EU

When Disney purchased Lucasarts, one of the first things they did was the controversial erasure of the Expanded Universe: the tales of Star Wars told in comic books, novels, and video games. While elements of the old EU have made it back into the new canon—such as fan favourite Grand Admiral Thrawn—large swaths of the Expanded Universe are still erased. Both the bad and the good. 

It’d be easy to take the best elements of the EU and use that to build a campaign. Retelling the events of Knights of the Old Republic with a twist. Or having the Yuuzhan Vong War occuring after the events of The Rise of Skywalker. A GM could also adapt the events of several X-Wing novels or Dark Forces games to the new era.

This is certainly the easiest route, as inspiration is provided and favourite novels or video games can serve as inspiration, so you don’t need to come up with a plotline, NPCs, and worlds from scratch. Such a campaign can run into trouble if your players are familiar with the source material, but a few key changes can prevent that from being an issue. Make the stories your own, much like how Marvel Studios does when adapting classic comic book stories for the big screen.

Other Side of the Galaxy

One of the major complaints of the Sequel Trilogy is that the scope is vague and uncertain. The size of the First Order is unknown, and the New Republic was apparently confined to a single star system. This uncertainty becomes a strength for a roleplaying game set during the same period as the sequel trilogy.

It’s very possible that instead of a big galaxy-wide event (like the Clone Wars or the massive galactic Empire) the events of the sequels could have been confined to a relatively small portion of the galaxy. The First Order was one faction that arose following the collapse of the Empire and the New Republic destroyed during the Starkiller Incident was another small nation. There might be two or three other large empires, republics, or alliances in the galaxy uninvolved with the events of the sequel trilogy, who still exist and are in need of saving/ defeating.

You could run a campaign set to the Galactic north, about the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances, and their own problems with a different Imperial Remnant. Or the Mandalorians, Hutts, the Lost Tribe of the Sith, or something else altogether. The “good guys” might even a section of the Galactic Empire that broke away and democratised, and is struggling against internal problems such as conservative elements hoping to restore the Empire’s past glories. 

The events in this other quadrant of the galaxy could be just as momentous as the conflict involving the First Order and the Resistance, against a threat just as dangerous and oppressive as the First Order. 

There’s lots of room for more stories and major events in a space as big as a galaxy.

Alternate Sequel Trilogy

Another option is to dump the events of the sequel trilogy altogether, and tell your own story about the next generation. Your own Episode VII.

This could be a very different tale about the end of the Skywalker lineage, albeit one more planned from the beginning and designed so all three “episodes” are to your liking. Such a campaign could pull story beats and characters from the Extended Universe as well as the films, combining and blending them as necessary. Or it could be wholly original, and based on your own desires for what happens next. 

Again, a session zero where the players get together and brainstorm, building their own future can work. With the players pitching ideas and slowly creating a future that seems reasonable and fits their expectations, while avoiding elements they found they disliked. Such a trilogy could also give the heroes of the Rebellion happier fates, perhaps not having their successes and accomplishments negated by the immediate rise of a new Empire. Or it could take an even darker route, and have the Rebellion fail following Return of the Jedi, with the Empire having a resurgence and remaining in power. 

A variant sequel trilogy could run with the idea that the Saga is about Anakin Skywalker, and focus on his legacy. A main character (either a PC or MacGuffin NPC) could be a literal reincarnation of Anakin, reborn through the Force to fulfil an incomplete destiny. Alternatively, the story might follow the route of the sequel trilogy and instead focus on the Skywalker bloodline. One or two of the players could be the child of Luke Skywalker, struggling to live up to the impossible legacy of their father and grandfather, while facing their own problems. 

The villains could be the Empire or some form of Imperial Remnant, other Sith, or a Cult of Vader inspired by the dark lord and hoping to avenge his death.

Infinities

A very different take on a Star Wars is running one in an Infinities reality. Similar to Marvel Comics’ “What if…?” brand, these stories tell alternate histories, of how events could have unfolded under slightly different circumstances. Such as if Luke’s torpedoes had misfired during the Battle of Yavin, or Han Solo doesn’t make it to Luke in time to stop him freezing to death. 

A single change can really ripple outward and make for a very different galaxy. There’s a myriad different options for how these stories could unfold. What if the troops on the Star Destroyer at the start of A New Hope had remembered droids were a thing and destroyed R2-D2 & C-3PO’s escape pod? What if Han and Chewie had fixed the Falcon’s hyperdrive before fleeing Hoth? What if the Rebels hadn’t befriended the Ewoks? Or what Luke had listened to Yoda, and stayed to finish his training? 

That last one is a good example, as in theory it wouldn’t change much: Lando would have helped Leia escape while Han would still be frozen. But, with further thought, without Artoo, the Falcon wouldn’t have escaped Vader and Leia would have been re-captured. And without his artificial hand, Luke might not have stopped attacking Vader on the second Death Star.

My favourite example of a potential Infinity is “what would have happened had Obi-wan died in the fight against Darth Maul while Qui Gon Jin had lived? Would Anakin still have fallen to the Dark Side if he’d been trained by an experienced Jedi Knight, let alone one mourning the loss of a Padawan? Suddenly, all kinds of things change and you end up with a setting that’s still Star Wars and very familiar, but one different enough that the players can leave their mark on the galaxy and make a difference.

A Galaxy of Your Own

And that can be your Star Wars. The new Star War. One where your heroes aren’t just holding down the fort until canon heroes can save the day, or are maintaining the status quo so the “real” heroes can make a difference. That’s the point: you don’t have to settle for having the PCs off to the side doing stuff that kinda sorta matters… but really doesn’t. Instead, they can change the galaxy. And should.

This is, until at least 2030 when we can expect an Episode X through XII about the plucky Revolution fighting against the imperialistic Third Reign led by a mysterious dark force user in black, which overthrows the failing Neo-Republic and the only hope is a kid raised on a desert planet with family ties to a legacy character.