Star Wars is an unstoppable media juggernaut now, but that wasn’t always the case. In the mid-1980s, it was all but dead. People still liked the movies, but there were no more animated shows or toys coming out, and it seemed like the franchise was set to fade into the twilight.
But by the early 1990s, that was changing in a big way. What happened? A tabletop role-playing game published by the now closed West End Games called, simply enough, Star Wars: the Roleplaying Game.
West End (or WEG for short) purchased a license from Lucasfilm in 1986 because they saw the potential of the setting to allow players to tell their own stories about their own characters in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons, which itself was a huge franchise at the time.
The game brought role-players into Star Wars fandom, and it brought Star Wars fans to role-playing games, helping both industries out. What’s more, the game provided the groundwork for much of the “extended universe,” the millions of words’ worth of novels, comics, and video games that filled in the gaps between the original trilogy and the prequels. While much of that was jettisoned by Disney, a lot of what millions of fans around the world know about the movies was because of that game, directly or otherwise.
Over the lifespan of a property like Star Wars, it’s easy to forget about things like Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, especially since there have been two other versions of Star Wars-based role-playing games from two other publishers since then. But because Lucasfilm took a chance on a type of media that was popular at the time, they were able to build on it to create the largest science fiction franchise in the world.
With the help of WEG’s role-play game, Star Wars has had, and will continue to have, an influence on fandom, media, intellectual property rights, games, toys, and many other creative outlets for a long time to come.