In April 2014, the Star Wars Expanded Universe was de-canonised and rebranded as Star Wars Legends to allow creative freedom for Disney and Lucasfilm moving forward into the Sequel Trilogy and other connected projects. A new Canon and timeline were to take its place. However, this new underviser didn’t start from scratch – the new Star Wars Canon owes a massive debt to those who helped to create and shape what is now Star Wars Legends. From planet names to starship designs, concepts and ideas migrated across to the new Canon to help flesh out the newly realigned universe. Listing them all here would be beyond the scope of this article. If only there was a website dedicated to cataloguing the Star Wars universe. Sounds like a good idea. Let me write that down …
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes.
Of all the licensees to contribute to the Star Wars universe over the decades, one of the most influential was West End Games, the company that produced the first role-playing game set in the Star Wars universe. Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game debuted in 1987 in a time when Timothy Zahn had not even conceived of Grand Admiral Thrawn and George Lucas was patiently waiting for technology to catch up to his green-tinted visions. Over the course of eleven years, they released a staggering output of rulebooks, supplements, sourcebooks (many based on the novel and comics series published at the time), adventures, and short stories. The groundwork they laid down for the Star Wars universe was the structural framework that the Expanded Universe was built on. From geographical regions to starship designs to individual companies and organizations, Timothy Zahn incorporated concepts and information devised by West End Games into his Thrawn Trilogy of novels and set the tone for the Star Wars Expanded Universe that followed.
The basic framework of the post-2014 Canon reboot is similarly built on West End Games’ worldbuilding. TIE fighters are still manufactured by Sienar Fleet Systems for example. Of all the current ongoing projects, it is perhaps Star Wars Rebels that benefits most from West End Games’ influence over the Star Wars universe. Important elements from the show first appeared in material produced by West End Games. The Inquisitorius, the Imperial Security Bureau, the Interdictor cruiser, and elements of the development of the B-wing prototype to name a few all originated in West End Games’ products over the years.
And then it hit me. The greatest influence West End Games has on Star Wars Rebels are the characters themselves. Each character relates to a character template devised by West End Games to help players mold their own characters. The templates were broad descriptions of a stock character with a generic background and starting equipment to allow the player to customize their own persona. The basic conceit of West End Games’ role-playing game was simple. A group of disparate characters come together, have adventures and fight the evil Empire. And it was usually a good idea that they had a ship to bum around the galaxy in. Sound familiar? Well, sure that’s because it’s the basic premise of Firefly but still …
Everyone’s favorite sociopathic astromech droid, Chopper, is obviously based on the template for an R2-series astromech droid. Which is handy, considering that the design for Chopper himself was based on original Ralph McQuarrie concept art for R2-D2. Chopper is equipped with all the relevant equipment that a “stock” R2 has, including an arc welder, buzz saw, electroshock prod, holoprojector, and grasper arms.
Droid characters in general were specialists in certain fields – medical droids were excellent doctors, assassin droids killed people without flashy parkour moves, protocol droids excelled at, uh, protocolling. Astromechs were designed to work with starships. Technical skills allowed them to assist in the operation and maintenance of the starship and they also served as navigational computers for smaller craft.
The rules for droid player characters state that they are not considered to be individuals by the galaxy at large, and are personal property and therefore must be “owned” by one of the other player characters. Chopper’s past as an astromech in service to the Republic during the Battle of Ryloth connects him to his nominal owner, Hera Syndulla who recovered and repaired him when the Y-wing he was in was shot down. Of course, astromech droids are usually irascible and independent fellows who scoff at the idea of ownership and like to do their own things.
Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios is the muscle of the Ghost’s crew, and quite often used as comic relief. And in our example, he is the Wookiee. Okay, so Zeb is actually a Lasat but bear with me here. The Lasat were created by West End Games based off of unused concept art by Ralph McQuarrie for Chewbacca, and introduced via the character of Puggles Trodd, a bounty hunter from the 1988 adventure Tatooine Manhunt. All of this makes Zeb – for the purposes of this article at least – a Wookiee. At least by proxy.
Wookiee character templates emphasize their strength and size, with the race being widely feared and respected for both. They also have a hatred for Imperial stormtroopers and enjoy relieving them of their extremities. Zeb uses both his size and strength as intimidation factors, and has a reputation for beating up stormtroopers for fun.
Wookiee characters often had the desire to return to their homeworld of Kashyyyk and free it from Imperial rule, and held a deep hatred for the slavers who profited from capturing and selling Wookiees into slave labor. Zeb had his own issues involving his homeworld as he witnessed the near-genocide of his race at the hands of the Empire. Finally, the starting equipment for Wookiees always includes the signature weapon of the species – the bowcaster. Is it therefore any surprise that Zeb has a weapon unique to his race called a – wait for it – bo-rifle? They’re not even trying at this point.
The Bounty Hunter
Sabine Wren may be noted more as a Rebel and artist (which was also a character template provided by West End Games late in their run) than a bounty hunter, but not only did she engage in that profession prior to the events of Star Wars Rebels, she wears Mandalorian armor which – through association with Jango and Boba Fett – is generally Star Wars shorthand for “bounty hunter.”
West End Games never revealed much about the Mandalorians aside from a few mentions but they provided plenty of templates for bounty hunters, ranging from Guild-affiliated hunters to independent hunters to Imperial-sanctioned hunters because everyone thinks Boba Fett is way cool and wanted to play a character just like him. Depending on the template, bounty hunters were equipped with a variety of armor styles ranging from simple blast vests to full suits of armor with integrated weaponry. West End Games also provided detailed information on the weapons and systems that Boba Fett incorporated into his armor that were carried over to Sabine’s armor, including a targeting viewfinder and macrobinocular viewplate.
Since several variations of the Bounty Hunter template were used, players could choose from a variety of motivations for doing what they did. However, since the game was originally designed to have the player characters working with the Rebellion, the first bounty hunter template made mention of how the Empire had reneged on a contract and the hunter voluntarily worked for the Rebellion for revenge. Sabine’s history recounts how she was motivated to join the Rebellion after the Imperial crackdown on Mandalore which is a close enough analogy.
And now we come to Ezra Bridger. But surely, you say, the role-playing game did not have a template for a young force-sensitive know-it-all with a blaster/lightsaber combination weapon? Well, no. Truly Force-sensitive characters were a rarity and powerful ones had to be evolved through serious gameplay. But it did have a Kid template so you could portray a pretentious brat tagging along with what you hoped were the baddest crew in the galaxy. Seriously though, who chose to play as a kid when you have the options of pilots, smugglers, and Wookiees laid out before you?
So Ezra Bridger is the Kid. The Kid’s template ranges his age anywhere between 8 and 16. Ezra’s age at the start of the series? 14 years old. The template also mentions one of the possible origins for the Kid as an orphan semi-adopted by another player character. Sound familiar? Ezra’s burgeoning Force abilities in the role-playing game would also need a teacher to improve. Ezra’s tutelage under Kanan covers that angle nicely.
Want more proof? Look at the images above. The Kid template shows him with a slingshot. Now look at Ezra. What is he originally armed with before he builds a weapon that surely breaches some copyright from Ulysses 31? An energy slingshot. Because space. Which begs the question – how does the energy slingshot not burn his fingers off?
The Minor Jedi
Kanan Jarrus handily fits the template of the Minor Jedi, although admittedly he bears a visual resemblance to the Failed Jedi (long hair and beard being a sure sign of Jediness way before the prequels popularized the look). The Minor Jedi’s background notes that the character is not technically a Jedi Knight – the Order is gone and they received a little training at the hands of one of the last survivors before they were betrayed and executed by the Empire. Seeing as how Kanan was a padawan (a word that didn’t exist during the time that West End Games was producing content) when he lost his master during Order 66, and was not “formally” knighted until Season Two, the description fits him pretty well.
From there, the Minor Jedi’s life was that of a fugitive, forever on the move to avoid the Empire and hiding their Force-sensitivity for fear of capture. They now work with the Rebellion to fight the Empire even if the chances of victory are slim. Considering Kanan’s situation during the events of the novel A New Dawn and into the events covered by Rebels, he fits the description to a tee.
Kanan also acts as a mentor and Jedi trainer to Ezra. One of West End Games’ rules regarding the evolution of Force powers was that a teacher was required. Kanan fills this role, allowing the character of Ezra to grow his skills under his tutelage – at least until he has exhausted the limits of his knowledge.
The Smuggler/Brash Pilot
Ace pilot Hera Syndulla, owner of the Ghost and Rebel in good standing is a combination of two templates – the Smuggler and the Brash Pilot – since neither is a perfect fit. Hera embodies the Smuggler template due to her work smuggling weapons and supplies for the Rebellion . The Smuggler template also comes with its own ship – generally a stock YT-1300 light freighter because everyone wants to pretend the fly something similar to the Millennium Falcon if they could.
Despite that, the main bulk of the characterization comes from the Brash Pilot template. The Brash Pilot comes from a planet occupied by the Empire. Hera Syndulla hails from Ryloth which was assaulted by first the Separatists during the Clone Wars then occupied by the Empire. Having left her home and joined the Rebellion, she is one of their top pilots evidenced by her handling of the B-wing prototype which is considered to be a notoriously difficult craft to master.
Hera also fulfills another important role – as the character who seemingly assembled the ragtag crew in the first place. Chopper was her astromech droid, and she recruited Kanan during the Gorse affair. Despite Kanan’s de facto leadership of the group, Hera was the connection to the Rebellion until recently which in turn makes her the nexus around who those seeking to oppose the Empire would rally around.