Star Wars Headcanon

I like putting thought into the reasons why a setting must work a certain way. It’s good practice for a roleplaying game, where some player will ask "hey, can we do X?" and I need to have a better reason to say “no” than "it will wreck my plot".

So if you want to keep a Star Wars game running the way you think it ought, but don’t just want to stomp on a player’s ideas, try the following ideas.

The Force

The Light and Dark sides of the Force have doomed the galaxy to a history of war.

War is inevitable, because both Light and Dark sides of the Force are natural and normal. There will always be a Jedi-like order. There will always be a Sith-like autocracy. They will serve their own ends, interacting with the Republic and its allies or enemies according to their nature. And they will always find themselves in conflict. There might be “gray Jedi” or “unaligned Force users”, but they are the exception, not the rule.

The will of the Force operates at galactic scales, and represents not the political interests of a given faction, but the overwhelming power of life itself. Individual people, planets, entire interplanetary civilizations may all suffer, but ultimately the Force acts in accord with the principles of life. The Dark Side is not objectively evil, but simply Nature, “red of tooth and claw”. The Light Side is not objectively good, but simply peacefulness and calm. As thinking people, we prefer the Light, but we are drawn to the Dark.

Midichlorians grow naturally in the bodies of powerful Force-users.

Many people are fine with dumping the whole concept, but if you must: the presence of midichlorians doesn’t give someone Force potential, it only indicates it. Moths may be attracted to light, but the presence of moths isn’t what creates that light.

Any death in a lightsaber duel is a victory for the Dark Side.

I generally regard Yoda as the authority on the Force in the franchise. One thing he said was "a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack." Let’s look at the deaths that happened in the film franchise:

  • Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul (Phantom Menace). An inconclusive fight.
  • Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul (Phantom Menace). Qui-Gon falls but is clearly in control of himself, while Obi-Wan is arguably fighting from anger to avenge his master.
  • Obi-Wan and Anakin vs. Dooku, first fight (Attack of the Clones). Inconclusive, as Dooku schools the two junior Jedi until Yoda arrives.
  • Yoda vs. Dooku (Attack of the Clones). Dooku escapes and nobody dies. Yoda upholds the Jedi respect for life.
  • Obi-Wan vs. Grievous (Revenge of the Sith). Ends up as a straightforward firefight, arguably not a clash of Force users.
  • Obi-Wan and Anakin vs. Dooku, second fight (Revenge of the Sith). This is very clearly a victory for the Dark Side - Palpatine urges Anakin to strike down his old apprentice, thus gaining a new one.
  • Mace Windu vs. Palpatine (Revenge of the Sith). Victory for both the Dark Side and the Sith Lord allied with it.
  • Yoda vs. Palpatine (Revenge of the Sith). Nobody dies. It’s my personal feeling that Yoda realizes he could only win the fight by killing Palpatine, and he’s reached a moral line he’s unwilling to cross.
  • Obi-Wan vs. Anakin (Revenge of the Sith). Obi-Wan is unwilling to strike the killing blow, but he clearly comes close. I give my thoughts on an alternate version of this fight, and its tragic outcomes, below.
  • Obi-Wan vs. Vader (A New Hope). The classic fight. Kenobi is clearly fighting to buy time - he knows he’s not going to make it out, but he hopes the sacrifice is worth it. A victory for the Dark Side in that Luke feels despair and anger at seeing his mentor die.
  • Luke vs. Vader, first fight (Empire Strikes Back). Clearly a victory for the Dark Side, even though Luke survives.
  • Luke vs. Vader, second fight (Return of the Jedi). Luke refuses to strike a fatal blow, representing a moral victory even if he would have been killed by the Emperor without Vader’s intervention. A loss for the Dark Side.

If a Jedi character wants to “win” a lightsaber duel, consider emphasizing the moral dimension, offering Dark Side points or corruption or whatever mechanic if they want to kill, or doing something else to drive home that what they are about to do is a misuse of the Force.

Dark Side Inversion

Originally posted here in response to this question: What if Yoda and Obi-Wan had won their duels against the Emperor and Vader in Ep3 (and Obi-Wan had the guts to finish Vader)?

It depends on what “won” means. If it means “killed”, you get a more narratively interesting outcome.

Yoda kills the Chancellor of the Republic-turned-Empire, who nobody knows is a Sith lord. The Senate chamber is wired for video, of course, and some loyal lackey finds and edits the holo-footage to wipe out the evidence of the fight, leaving only Yoda running him through. Of course, we also have evidence that Mace Windu visited Palpatine earlier, so now it looks like the Jedi Council is trying to just flat-out murder the duly elected leader of known space.

Yoda won’t lie, but they really have nothing tying Palpatine to the Separatists. The Sith are a Jedi legend, so of course they’d say something like that. “Look at what happened!” people will say. “The peace-loving Jedi held us back from really fighting the Separatists, they led our armies to defeat and disgrace, and then they murdered the only man with the guts to stand up and hold the Republic together!”

Order 66 has gone out. Yoda, Obi-Wan, and a handful of others are all that’s left of the Jedi.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan has his duel on Mustafar. He cuts off Anakin’s legs, then - out of mercy - thrusts his lightsaber through the beating heart of his best friend as his wretched body does its best to crawl up a lava-soaked hill. Obi-Wan takes the dying Padme to Polis Massa. On some level she knows what he’s done, and she can’t forgive him in spite of everything. He leaves, alone.

What is going to happen now? Kenobi doesn’t know. The Republic is in flames. Separatist sentiment didn’t stop just because Dooku fell. The clone troopers were created by the Republic’s real enemies. The droid army is still in their hands. Everything is falling apart.

He’s afraid.

In his youth, Kenobi saw his master killed by the Sith. He just killed his own apprentice. Two guys have split the Republic apart. Two guys. How fragile it all was. How vulnerable. But how peaceful. How perfect. It can’t end like this.

He’s angry.

A thousand generations won’t go to waste because of the machinations of a few. The greedy, selfish, evil few. The ones he’s killed, and seen kill those closest to him. This won’t stand. Damn the Sith!

He hates.

Obi-Wan Kenobi puts up his hood to hide his contorted face and blazing eyes. He’s going to fix this. Oh yes, he’s going to fix this. If two Force-users can destroy a Republic, two can destroy an Empire. He’ll make things right again. He just needs an apprentice…

There’s the twins. Who took them? Oh yes…

He can wait. He needs time to prepare.

I don’t think there’s any version of events where Yoda redeems Palpatine. I think he’d be willing to try, but I also assume he’d be wise enough to know when it’s clearly impossible.

You can go further along this timeline. Obi-Wan recruits Luke, forcing Yoda to come out of retirement and train Leia… I think you really start diverging from canon only at this point, but in hopefully interesting ways. The intermediate years probably look very similar. But “Leia as heroine of the New Hope era” has a lot of potential. She’s temperamentally closer to the Jedi, has her mother’s Action Senator skills and her father’s Force potential, and just generally comes off as a sensible woman who can kick ass but is smart enough to know when not to.

It gets funny if you leave Han and Chewie working with darkside!Kenobi and Luke for awhile, and Leia having to work against them. So there’s this rogue she keeps having to go up against, but he’s charming and interesting and has this way of looking at her that no commoner ever dared, but he’s on the wrong side dammit and now everything’s confusing…

So they keep taking each other captive and do this dance through like the first movie and a half.

Technology

Space doesn’t matter unless somebody is shooting at you.

I don’t care that parsecs are a unit of distance, not a unit of time. The point of the dialogue from “A New Hope” was to establish that the Millennium Falcon was a fast ship. For all we knew (until “The Force Awakens”), Han could have been making the entire line up, counting on a hick farm boy not to know what a parsec was.

There’s not a lot of Star Wars action that happens in space that isn’t replicated on the ground. People are running from something, or trying to get to something, or hiding from someone, or in a firefight with someone. So don’t worry how fast the PCs’ ship actually is. They’ll arrive right on time for the action.

Most people can’t or don’t understand how their technology works.

Star Wars has amazingly advanced technology. Hyperdrive takes people between star systems in hours or days, not weeks or years. So where are the engineers, the scientists, the technicians? Who do we see building, repairing, and improving these things?

The answer is droids. Han Solo can’t even figure out what’s wrong with his own hyperdrive. His ship’s computer can’t talk to him, but it can talk to C3P0, a protocol droid. X-Wing pilots take astromech droids along as copilots. When it’s time to put someone in a bacta tank, deliver a baby, or plug bionic limbs onto a cyborg with third-degree burns, droids do the work. We don’t really see organic beings doing high-tech innovation on screen. We do see them monkeying with the innards of their ships, often ineffectually. We see them sabotaging simple equipment, like security doors. Why?

The reason is that modern technology is too advanced for organic minds to really process. A Republic a thousand generations old has innovated for so long that it now takes an entire phylum of artificial life to get anything done. There’s exceptions - like the nigh-mystical telekinetic assembly of a lightsaber, guided by the cosmos itself - but for the most part, you’re not going to be inventing anything amazingly new as a character. Get a droid to do it.

It’s still perfectly possible to plug stuff together in new and interesting ways. The Millennium Falcon is amazing because Han has been tinkering with it for years, but it’s still recognizably a starship, just a superior one. Mandalorian armor might have a variety of interesting gadgets built in, but they’re all based on well-understood principles like ascension guns, flame throwers, and rockets.

Droids aren’t usually heroic characters because they’re engineered to be inferior.

Droids could be tougher, faster, and better than most organics. What they lack in innovative thinking, they make up for in physical strength, durability, and programmability. Truly capable droids - like the Clone Wars era commando droids - can easily keep up with elite soldiers, who must be grown and trained for years.

The Republic kept a tight leash on its droid population. Droids’ memories are wiped to avoid the inevitable emergence of a personality. Mass-produced combat droids are only dangerous in numbers. Protocol droids are slow and clumsy, barely able to approximate a humnaoid’s range of motion. More vital units, like astromech droids that must operate outside a ship in combat conditions, are equipped with enough tools and mobility to get their job done. Finally, droids come with restraining bolts. On any organic being, the equivalent would be a slave’s shock collar.