Why Did Solo and Rogue One Feel Like RPG Sessions?
  • Why Did "Solo" and "Rogue One" Feel Like RPG Sessions?


    If you saw the two most recent "Star Wars Story" movies--Solo or Rogue One--a common refrain is that they feel like how Star Wars role-playing game sessions play out. The reason has a lot to do with a shift in franchise-building philosophy and what kinds of stories role-playing games are good at telling.

    The War That Never Ends

    Before selling Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, George Lucas was working with Lawrence Kasdan on a standalone Solo film, with two others announced later (Rogue One and a third about Boba Fett). These films were first known as "anthology films" and later, "Star Wars Stories," are distinctive in that they lack an opening crawl like the trilogies. The exploration of these side stories is a tradition that Star Wars helped create:

    As with most aspects of the modern blockbuster, franchise expansion got its big-screen start with “Star Wars,” which used novels, comic books and TV movies to create a so-called ‘Extended Universe,’ before gaining speed in the 2000s, thanks principally to superhero pictures, or borderline superhero pictures, like “Catwoman,” “Elektra,” and “The Scorpion King” (though “Supergirl” and “U.S. Marshals” are two unsuccessful examples of early universe-expansion before that).

    But why now? Disney's success with interweaving Marvel stories -- something long-established in comics -- is certainly part of it:

    Studio executives see their jobs as minimizing risk, and movies based on established, proven properties are seen as less risky than original material, and thus less likely to get them fired if they don’t work. The extended universe is seen to be a way of not just building on a franchise through sequels, but by linking seemingly stand-alone pictures and allowing them to crossover. Why take a gamble on an original script when you can squeeze in a spin-off or prequel instead? If you have a proven franchise asset, as most of these studios do, it’s seen as responsible business to maximize it by getting as much product out of it as you can. Whereas the old studio system would put their biggest stars in as many films as possible, now the properties themselves are the stars.

    Two factors are coming together to make this kind of storytelling popular. Millennials are interested in storytelling and the Internet's fondness for mashups:

    The of idea continuing a successful movie goes beyond just striking gold with the same idea. Studio executives see their jobs as minimizing risk, and movies based on established, proven properties are seen as less risky than original material, and thus less likely to get them fired if they don’t work. The extended universe is seen to be a way of not just building on a franchise through sequels, but by linking seemingly stand-alone pictures and allowing them to crossover. Why take a gamble on an original script when you can squeeze in a spin-off or prequel instead? If you have a proven franchise asset, as most of these studios do, it’s seen as responsible business to maximize it by getting as much product out of it as you can. Whereas the old studio system would put their biggest stars in as many films as possible, now the properties themselves are the stars.

    It's probably no coincidence that Dungeons & Dragons is experiencing a rise in popularity too. And that's at least in part due to the fact that role-playing games do storytelling and mashups very well.

    RPG's Strength Stat

    Traditional RPGs in the vein of D&D can still tell exciting stories, but they don't lend themselves to the epic, sweeping narratives that are narrowly focused on one character's destiny--a staple of Star Wars.

    There are reasons for this: randomization; an attempt to balance play for all players so they have fun; leveling and improvement systems so that all characters have an incentive for self-improvement; and multiple independently-minded player characters who may not follow the plot as dictated by the game master. Steven Ray Orr explains:

    As a writer, I knew that storytelling was an isolated affair that involved ruthlessly stealing ideas from friends, family, and anyone else that happened upon my path, but Dungeons & Dragons is the antithesis of such selfishness and best understood as method of crafting a communal narrative. Just as the limitations of genre, form, and style bind written stories, so too are there rules in D&D that confine what is possible, but role-playing removes the absolute authorial control that comes with solitary storytelling.

    D&D itself is a mashup of a wide variety of influences:

    The different classes of character you can play as—barbarian, druid, wizard, etc.—are pulled from mythological and literary sources, from pre-Christian Celtic traditions to the character of Aragorn in the LOTR universe. Geographical planes where one can play, magical spells and weapons one can use, and monsters one might fight stem from sources as disparate as Pliny’s Natural History, Paradise Lost, and Arabian Nights. This kitschy mix of every fantastic invention or story we know of makes the texture of D&D campaigns collage-like and chaotic. Since so many ideas are being reused at once, one inevitably creates a new Frankenstein’s monster of a campaign every time.

    D&D and RPGs in general have always told great stories, and the geeky nature of fandom encourages detail-oriented worldbuilding. The Star Wars Story films are an attempt to fill in those gaps. In a way, the sensibilities of the expanded universe ofthe Star Wars franchise has come full circle, reaching the big screen that spawned it. It's a new form of storytelling that has been prevalent on TV, and not everyone is happy about it.

    A New Form of Storytelling

    The expansion of Hollywood universes into a web of movies that contribute to a larger narrative has shifted the focus of a film's success away from its stars and good storytelling to worldbuilding, which can only be fully appreciated by consuming all of the media:

    When movies were mostly one-offs—and not spinoffs, sequels, reboots, or remakes—they had to be good...No matter how well executed, commercial success for such a film was never guaranteed. Laying out an enormous sum of money on a product whose creation depends upon a harmony of massive egos, and whose final appeal is the result of intangibles, is a terrible basis for a commercial enterprise...Today, the major franchises are commercially invulnerable because they offer up proprietary universes that their legions of fans are desperate to reënter on almost any terms. These reliable sources of profit are now Hollywood’s financial bedrock.

    The latest Avengers: Infinity War movie leaned heavily on the audience's knowledge of the other movies and was therefore its success was nearly inseparable from the entire Marvel oeuvre. Joshua Rothman of the New Yorker explains how this transition affects Star Wars:

    It used to be a “saga”—a story told in the epic mode, in which the fate of the world is inextricably tied to the souls of cosmically important and irreplaceable individuals. It’s becoming a “universe,” in which atomized and interchangeable people embark on adventures that are individually exciting but ultimately inconsequential.

    Add all this together and it's no wonder that movies are now starting to tell the same stories that RPGs have always been telling:

    When the universalization of “Star Wars” is complete, it will no longer be a story but an aesthetic. We’ll be able to debate which actor played Han Solo best, just as we weigh the pros and cons of different James Bonds. We’ll keep up with the new movies not because we want to find out what happens—the plot, if one exists, will be an impenetrable trellis of intersecting arclets—but because we like their vibe, their look, and their general moral attitude.

    If the box office receipts of Star Wars and the Marvel movies are any indication, fans are finally coming around to the kinds of stories we've telling with our RPGs for decades.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
    Comments 134 Comments
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Incidentally, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game (FFG) is a narrative-based game. It eschews a lot of the traditional crunch and power-game ideology found inherent in more tactical and combat heavy systems, and embraces the theater of the mind style of play. The irony here lies between the movies emulating one aspect of an RPG and an RPG designed to emulate aspects of the movies.

      Also, I should mention Star Wars Rebels. That show actually felt like an entire RPG campaign. Best Star Wars! I will have season 4 on Blue-ray to complete my collection. Loved it!
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      In a way, Solo and SW:Ep1-3 are very related to the too common 1-20 Adventure Paths common today in RPGs. In Solo, before the movie opens, we know that Solo has to somehow meet Chewie and Lando and acquire the Falcon in a card game not to mention the Kessel run in 12 parsecs. The path is pretty well mapped out, only details are left to the imagination and we know that failure of the main character isn't really an option. When Star Wars opened(before there were episodes), we knew little except what we might have seen in the few TV adverts. The whole movie was a new adventure with little pre-knowledge of who might live or die or what level of success our band of adventurers might achieve. Much like early D&D when there were no adventure paths, only DM made adventures possibly supplemented by the occasional store bought module. Only the DM might know where the path was going to lead. The adventurers had a lot of control over where the script went.
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      When designing adventures, I think of the encounters as scenes. The spaces between the encounters are less structured and usually generated on the fly. When reviewing the adventure, I think to myself "If this was a movie, would I find it interesting?". If the answer is yes, it will likely be well received.

      RPG adventures have much more in common with movies, than with written stories. Specifically, the pacing is much different. A novel can take its time and devote many pages to developing setting and characters. A movie needs to do that is much more limited time. RPG players are much more similar to movie-goers given most sessions last 4-8 hours.
    1. pming's Avatar
      pming -
      LOL!

      Studio executives see their jobs as minimizing risk, and movies based on established, proven properties are seen as less risky than original material, and thus less likely to get them fired if they don’t work.
      So...hows that working out for ya, exex's?

      I dare...no, I double-dog dare anyone to go on Youtube and search for "Solo Star Wars review" and watch a half-dozen fan reviews. Go on. Actually, I better warn ya...they are not safe for work, nor are they going to be pretty.

      Here's something from Vanity Fair: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood...ox-office-flop

      It seems that, really, only those completely clueless about Star Wars, or "critics" (who get free tickets and pre-showings) are saying anything remotely positive. The VAST majority of Star Wars fan plop it firmly into the "bantha-poo-doo" bucket. Same goes for The Last Jedi, and Rogue One.

      This, uh, "News Review"?...gives me a bit too much of the "Disney told me I had to say this" vibe. Truth is, there is not enough "Star Wars History Building" and too much "Going to try something really different". People are fans of Star Wars because it has a shared history, "canon", basically. When a writer/director comes in and says "Naaa...we're going to just ignore all that history stuff and make the film WE want, not what the fans want"...well, I wonder why they are surprised at how poorly it's doing.

      With the way things are going nowadays with actors and movies being speakers and platforms for their particular "view and outlook on what is the 'right' way to behave and think", well, I don't see the future getting any better for our beloved franchises.

      TL;DR The writer is incorrect. Solo sucks. The Last Jedi sucks. The Force Awakens sucked a bit less than those. Disney (and Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman, along with Rian Johnson are pretty much single-handedly destroying Star Wars as a franchise; the Fans are NOT happy...and based on tweets and interviews with how those three folks feel about the "True Star Wars Fans", I don't see a rosy future.

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
    1. Ovinomancer's Avatar
      Ovinomancer -
      Quote Originally Posted by pming View Post
      LOL!



      So...hows that working out for ya, exex's?

      I dare...no, I double-dog dare anyone to go on Youtube and search for "Solo Star Wars review" and watch a half-dozen fan reviews. Go on. Actually, I better warn ya...they are not safe for work, nor are they going to be pretty.

      Here's something from Vanity Fair: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood...ox-office-flop

      It seems that, really, only those completely clueless about Star Wars, or "critics" (who get free tickets and pre-showings) are saying anything remotely positive. The VAST majority of Star Wars fan plop it firmly into the "bantha-poo-doo" bucket. Same goes for The Last Jedi, and Rogue One.

      This, uh, "News Review"?...gives me a bit too much of the "Disney told me I had to say this" vibe. Truth is, there is not enough "Star Wars History Building" and too much "Going to try something really different". People are fans of Star Wars because it has a shared history, "canon", basically. When a writer/director comes in and says "Naaa...we're going to just ignore all that history stuff and make the film WE want, not what the fans want"...well, I wonder why they are surprised at how poorly it's doing.

      With the way things are going nowadays with actors and movies being speakers and platforms for their particular "view and outlook on what is the 'right' way to behave and think", well, I don't see the future getting any better for our beloved franchises.

      TL;DR The writer is incorrect. Solo sucks. The Last Jedi sucks. The Force Awakens sucked a bit less than those. Disney (and Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman, along with Rian Johnson are pretty much single-handedly destroying Star Wars as a franchise; the Fans are NOT happy...and based on tweets and interviews with how those three folks feel about the "True Star Wars Fans", I don't see a rosy future.

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
      Implied "in my opinion" added.
    1. estar's Avatar
      estar -
      What going on with franchise related films like Marvel and Tabletop RPGs are unrelated. Stuff like Marvel has their roots in things like Babylon 5 where people started to realized they can use film and television to tell multi-layered stories that are interesting and fun to watch. With it's series format, television show pioneered this but Marvel was able to come up with a format that works for film. For that they deserve every bit of praise.

      In contrast RPGs are overkill for collaborative storytelling. Due to the players being able to pick any course of action their character can do and the flexibility of the human referee they lack any ability to control a narrative. Instead what RPGs are great at is creating experiences. Transporting the players to another place or time and experience interesting adventures and situations. Doing this within the time one has for a hobby. The story, if there is any, is a person recounting what happened.

      The only way that RPG have been able to define anything close to a narrative is by limiting the players choices by focusing on a narrow situation, or a narrow selection of possible characters. Some do it as part of the presentation, while other seemly more expansive designs do it as part of the setup of a campaign.
    1. mykesfree's Avatar
      mykesfree -
      It is almost as if people who are currrently part of the Star Wars story team used to work for West End Games.....

      https://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=4808
    1. Sunseeker's Avatar
      Sunseeker -
      Quote Originally Posted by pming View Post
      TL;DR The writer is incorrect. Solo sucks. The Last Jedi sucks. The Force Awakens sucked a bit less than those. Disney (and Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman, along with Rian Johnson are pretty much single-handedly destroying Star Wars as a franchise; the Fans are NOT happy...and based on tweets and interviews with how those three folks feel about the "True Star Wars Fans", I don't see a rosy future.

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
      Jesus, I almost miss being able to downvote this kind of garbage.

      <-This fan is happy. Speak for yourself, and only yourself.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by estar View Post
      In contrast RPGs are overkill for collaborative storytelling. Due to the players being able to pick any course of action their character can do and the flexibility of the human referee they lack any ability to control a narrative. Instead what RPGs are great at is creating experiences. Transporting the players to another place or time and experience interesting adventures and situations. Doing this within the time one has for a hobby. The story, if there is any, is a person recounting what happened.
      This is not true of all RPGs.
    1. Eltab's Avatar
      Eltab -
      Quote Originally Posted by talien View Post
      But why now? Disney's success with interweaving Marvel stories -- something long-established in comics -- is certainly part of it:
      -Quotation 1-
      Two factors are coming together to make this kind of storytelling popular. Millennials are interested in storytelling and the Internet's fondness for mashups:
      -Quotation 2-
      Were these quotations intended to be so similar?

      Disney seems to be doing better 'filling in the blanks' of the Star Wars universe than in writing all-new stuff. Hopefully they can learn from experience faster than Lucas did with the prequels.

      A thought-provoking piece. I'm going to have to digest this for a while.
    1. Bagpuss's Avatar
      Bagpuss -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jacob Lewis View Post
      Incidentally, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game (FFG) is a narrative-based game.
      I wouldn't go that far. It has strong narrative elements, but it is pretty crunchy compared to what I would call a narrative game. It is pretty complex combat wise, at least as much so as say D&D.
    1. Bagpuss's Avatar
      Bagpuss -
      Quote Originally Posted by talien View Post
      If you saw the two most recent "Star Wars Story" movies--Solo or Rogue One
      Ah you're one of those people that pretends The Last Jedi never happened.
    1. Bagpuss's Avatar
      Bagpuss -
      Quote Originally Posted by pming View Post
      So...hows that working out for ya, exex's?

      I dare...no, I double-dog dare anyone to go on Youtube and search for "Solo Star Wars review" and watch a half-dozen fan reviews. Go on. Actually, I better warn ya...they are not safe for work, nor are they going to be pretty.

      Here's something from Vanity Fair: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood...ox-office-flop
      Solo getting harsh critic reviews but is getting much better audience reviews than the Last Jedi did (which got steller critic reviews). I think the main reason it hasn't done well at the box office is people feeling burned by The Last Jedi. Plus no Harrison Ford.
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Quote Originally Posted by Bagpuss View Post
      I wouldn't go that far. It has strong narrative elements, but it is pretty crunchy compared to what I would call a narrative game. It is pretty complex combat wise, at least as much so as say D&D.
      I don't think we're playing the same game.
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Bagpuss View Post
      Ah you're one of those people that pretends The Last Jedi never happened.
      A "Star Wars Story" isn't the same as "Star Wars: Episode xxx" Solo was a 'Story', Last Jedi was an 'Episode'. Solo also doesn't have the normal Episodic opening text crawling into space.

      Disclaimer - haven't seen Last Jedi yet. Not a SW fanatic. First viewing of many of the last movies have been either cable or disk. Have seen Solo, decent movie but somewhat predictable as noted in my previous comment.

      Still wondering if Qi'ra's "From a Dragon" comment was an Emilia Clarke adlib or a scripted line.
    1. ehren37's Avatar
      ehren37 -
      Quote Originally Posted by pming View Post
      LOL!



      So...hows that working out for ya, exex's?

      I dare...no, I double-dog dare anyone to go on Youtube and search for "Solo Star Wars review" and watch a half-dozen fan reviews. Go on. Actually, I better warn ya...they are not safe for work, nor are they going to be pretty.

      Here's something from Vanity Fair: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood...ox-office-flop

      It seems that, really, only those completely clueless about Star Wars, or "critics" (who get free tickets and pre-showings) are saying anything remotely positive. The VAST majority of Star Wars fan plop it firmly into the "bantha-poo-doo" bucket. Same goes for The Last Jedi, and Rogue One.

      This, uh, "News Review"?...gives me a bit too much of the "Disney told me I had to say this" vibe. Truth is, there is not enough "Star Wars History Building" and too much "Going to try something really different". People are fans of Star Wars because it has a shared history, "canon", basically. When a writer/director comes in and says "Naaa...we're going to just ignore all that history stuff and make the film WE want, not what the fans want"...well, I wonder why they are surprised at how poorly it's doing.

      With the way things are going nowadays with actors and movies being speakers and platforms for their particular "view and outlook on what is the 'right' way to behave and think", well, I don't see the future getting any better for our beloved franchises.

      TL;DR The writer is incorrect. Solo sucks. The Last Jedi sucks. The Force Awakens sucked a bit less than those. Disney (and Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman, along with Rian Johnson are pretty much single-handedly destroying Star Wars as a franchise; the Fans are NOT happy...and based on tweets and interviews with how those three folks feel about the "True Star Wars Fans", I don't see a rosy future.

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
      Alt-right guys whine about "forced diversity/feminism" in New Star Wars... in other news, water is wet.

      A few screeching neckbeards does not constitute a significant majority. Yep, you guys sure spammed Rotten Tomatoes with vice-signaling user reviews. Still won't kill the franchise if Jar Jar/Prequel Anakin couldn't.
    1. Hutchimus Prime's Avatar
      Hutchimus Prime -
      Quote Originally Posted by mykesfree View Post
      It is almost as if people who currrently part of the Star Wars story team used to work for West End Games.....

      https://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=4808
      Man I loved that game and system.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Bagpuss View Post
      Ah you're one of those people that pretends The Last Jedi never happened.
      The Last Jedi isn't a "Star Wars Story" movie. It's part of the main saga, which is characterised by "Episodes".
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      As a Star Wars fan since age 6 when I saw the original film in 1977, I enjoyed both The Last Jedi and Solo, and find that contemporary SW fans are becoming a really weird bunch. It really helps that I see these movies with my 6 1/2 year old son who helps serve as an important reminder that Star Wars is best enjoyed in proper context.

      The Last Jedi was impressive for being a meticulous deconstruction of the franchise. Solo was equally impressive for being an affirmation of the story's core conceits. That they both worked despite being so opposite in terms of underlying structure strikes me as an impressive range of achievement for a franchise that started as an homage to Flash Gordon serials.
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      I'm a diehard Star Wars fanatic and I actually liked Solo better than Rogue One (well, to be honest, it's more like R1 2nd Half > Solo > R1 1st Half). I've also loved the new trilogy so far, so .

      I really ought to try to convince more people to try get into a Star Wars RPG; haven't bothered to check out the FFG version yet, how does it play?
    Comments Leave Comment