I was first introduced to Star Wars at age 8, when the Original Trilogy was re-released on VHS. My mom, who had seen the movies in theaters when they’d first come out, saw the VHS tapes on sale and got really excited, telling me and my brother how great the movies were as she picked them up for purchase. I, on the other hand, was deeply skeptical: the movies had “war” in the title, and war was bad, right?
Fortunately, my mom ignored my concerns and plopped me and my brother down to watch the movies with her. I don’t have many clear memories of those first viewings, but I do know that by the end of Return of the Jedi, I was hooked. I watched the movies over and over, and as I got older, I started reading some of the Expanded Universe books–the Thrawn Trilogy stands out in memory as the first ones I picked up. And when the prequels came out, I went to see them all in theaters–multiple times, even as I found myself thinking that they sounded like they’d been written by someone who’d rather be doing anything else.
But after the prequels, I sort of drifted away. The prequels hadn’t captured my heart and imagination the way the OT did. The Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) games brought me back to Star Wars briefly–I was pretty active in the fandom for a while, but for some reason, I didn’t really think of myself as a Star Wars fan, even as I wrote fanfic about Jedi and smuggler pilots. It was in the Star Wars universe, sure, but I wasn’t a Star Wars fan. I was a KotOR fan, and eventually, I moved on from that, too.
So for years, Star Wars stayed on the periphery: something I’d enjoyed, but not a fandom I really sought out or participated in. When The Force Awakens was announced, I reacted with caution. Was this going to be the disappointment of the prequels all over again? I didn’t want to get my hopes up, only to be let down.
It was in this atmosphere of caution and distance that I discovered Campaign Podcast. Set five years after the prequels, it’s a tabletop RPG played using the Edge of the Empire system. I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs since high school; I started with Dungeons and Dragons but have branched out into other systems over the years. I was sort of vaguely aware of Star Wars RPG systems out there, but I’d never looked into them–after all, I wasn’t a Star Wars fan. Why would I be interested?
Campaign showed me why. It was undeniably a Star Wars story, but it featured characters and stories that were completely different than anything the canon offered. All of a sudden, Star Wars went from being a closed box of canon to a huge, sprawling universe absolutely filled with storytelling possibility. I spent a good six months listening to Campaign and wishing I had the opportunity to play with the Edge of the Empire system, but my regular gaming group didn’t have the time for another game. So I listened and looked up the dice system and tried not to think of too many character ideas.
The Force Awakens came out and was better than I could have hoped. And suddenly, it was cool to like Star Wars again! Everyone was talking about it and creating content about it, and that excited hook I’d felt as a kid came back. But I still didn’t really feel like a real Star Wars fan. Liking the movie wasn’t enough for me to call myself that.
Then, in a conversation with my friend and NTMtP contributor Beka, she mentioned that she kinda wanted to run a Star Wars RPG. I saw my chance and seized it, pointing her to Campaign and the Edge of the Empire system. A couple months later, she started running a game; we’ve been playing for almost 18 months now, and it’s been an incredible amount of fun. And it’s brought me into Star Wars in a way I never would have thought of even two years ago. I picked up a bunch of the new canon novels and started watching the animated series, trying to absorb as much information about the universe as I could.
But unlike when I’d gotten into Star Wars as a kid, I wasn’t approaching it as this vast, singular behemoth that I could never be a part of. Star Wars is a huge universe, and the canon stories have only touched on tiny pieces of it. So now I treat canon as a resource more than a law: I’ll dive into all the “official” content, pull out the stuff I like, ignore the stuff I don’t, and make up my own information to fill in the gaps. The game I play in with a crew of desperate smugglers and scoundrels on the fringes of the galaxy, or the cosmic horror adventure set 2,000 years before the Clone Wars that I wrote, have just as much place in Star Wars as any other story, canon or not.
Tabletop RPGs made me feel like Star Wars was something I could be a part of, even if it’s just with a handful of friends over dice. They cracked open the universe and showed me all the possibilities that the galaxy far, far away has to offer.
When Rhi isn’t playing Star Wars make-believe with her friends, she writes fanfic, plays a lot of games, and hoards polyhedral dice. For out of context quotes from her tabletop RPGs, follow her twitter @rhiannon42.