Armagideon Time

A somewhat long time ago

June 25th, 2018

During the process of sorting and disposing of the stuff in my grandmother’s attic, I unearthed my copy of West End Games’ Star Wars Sourcebook. The book and its core rules companion (as soon as I locate it) will both be spared the sad fate destined to befall scores of other less cherished articles from that high school era hoard.

West End’s “d6″ incarnation of the Star Wars RPG was a perfect marriage between form and function. The simplicity of the mechanics reflected the breeziness of the source material, while the writing perfectly captured its lighthearted-yet-epic tone. All of it was bundled up into slick hardback tomes packed with concept art and photos pulled straight from the movies and filled out by ancillary fluff that helped lay the groundwork for the “Expanded Universe.”

It was a remarkable effort, especially for something released in the middle of the all-but-forgotten “Star Armistice.” My buddy Damian picked up the first wave of Star Wars RPG publications when they dropped in 1987, and I remember flipping through them in his room while he loudly cursed out the NES Castlevania game of being “A CHEATING FUCK.” The production values of the books were impressive, but reeked of nostalgia. Star Wars? In 1987? Who the heck would get excited about that?

The first installment of the original trilogy debuted when I was five years old and the conclusion hit theaters a couple of months after my eleventh birthday. The bulk of my childhood was spent in rapt devotion to the franchise and its long, heavily merchandised trail. The action figure line was was the most prominent vector for that adoration, but was merely a one facet of an all-encompassing phenomenon that ranged from the bubblegum cards in the spokes of our bikes to the treasury-sized comic adaptations to disposable paperware to bedsheets to daily apparel.

Rumors about the upcoming films were the stuff of heated lunchroom speculation, as were the cryptic references to Krayt Dragons, Clone Wars, and the Kessel Run. The only other media property that even came close to that level of semi-religious awe was Happy Days, and neither Pinky Tuscadero nor the Malachi Brothers sported laser swords or spoke in some strange alien dialect. (No, “Hollywood Brooklyn Ethnic Tough” doesn’t count.)

The mania lasted right up through the immediate wake of Return of the Jedi, but then waned rapidly thereafter. Despite Lucasarts’ and its licensees’ attempts to keep the streak going, Star Wars had settled into a “past tense” vibe by the time 1984 drew to a close. The lack of information about the promised follow-up trilogies didn’t help, as it added to the sense of conclusive finality of ROJT’s ending, but the biggest factor behind the cooldown was the combination of oversaturation and the shift in the zeitgeist.

Star Wars may have escaped the mood of damnatio memoriae the Reagan Years imposed upon anything associated with the Seventies, but it still entered the mid-Eighties as something of a Me Decade relic. Ironically, the very assets Star Wars brought to the table — an involved fictional universe, toyetic trappings, effects-driven excitement — provided an inspirational template for a new generation of works that jockeyed for its marketshare.

The first wave of GI Joes looked cheap as hell compared to the gold standard of Kenner’s Star Wars line, yet by 1984 the Real American Heroes’ refinements in design and Cold War zeitgeist made Luke, Vader and company seem quaintly stodgy by comparison. From Transformers to Masters of the Universe to Robotech, there wasn’t a single media-linked “boys” figure line of the era that didn’t take its cues — conceptually or otherwise — from Star Wars. And unlike Star Wars half-a-decade-plus saga, they had a sense of novelty on their side.

As someone on the younger side of the original wave wave of Star Wars fandom, the original trilogy spanned nearly my entire primary school existence. When Return of the Jedi wrapped things up (for then), my friends and I were on the edge of adolescence, with its big performative show of putting aside “childish” things. Some of pals graduate from speculating about Mandalorians to contemplating the contents of girly magazines swiped from their fathers’ tool chests and/or the magic of black light bulbs on an Judas Priest posters. Those of us who clung to a geeky trajectory drifted towards “edgier” or fresher material, be it in the film, funnybook, or prose fiction realm. Few of us ever actually turned against the Star Wars franchise, but rather viewed it as training wheels for our sophisticated appreciation of Ghostbusters, Aliens, Robocop, and Watchmen.

That’s why I could skim the Star Wars RPG in the late Eighties and feel befuddled nostalgia, or why folks in the college Sci-Fi Club would tease my punk rock pal Leech for his unstinting dedication to the franchise in 1991. Why linger on that old thing when there were Terminators and Highlanders to obsess about instead?

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