How A Forgotten '80s RPG Gave Birth To The 'Star Wars' Expanded Universe
Star Wars has obviously featured a number of iconic villains over the years, from Darth Vader to Emperor Palpatine to mid-’90s digital technology. For the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series, as evidenced by the recently-released trailer, the antagonists consist of Vader and the evil Sith Inquisitors, including the Grand Inquisitor, who looks not unlike a Cenobite who’s into ICP.
These lightsaber-wielding baddies – who reportedly replaced Darth Maul as the villains of the series – have appeared in animated shows like Rebels, but they first showed up, not in George Lucas’ frontal cortex, but in an RPG from the 1980s. Yup, the idea of Sith Inquisitors first showed up in the “sourcebook” for 1987’s Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, published by West End Games.
The “tiny” Pennsylvania game company didn’t just come up with the inquisitors; it arguably revived the Star Wars franchise, which, apart from the occasional Saturday morning cartoon, was beginning to fade from the public consciousness. Most importantly, these series of books basically formed the detailed foundation for what became the “expanded universe” – so much so that when author Timothy Zahn began writing his “official” sequel books, “Lucasfilm wanted him to use the sourcebook” as his bible. As a result, “planets and alien races used in many Star Wars novels, games, and even the movies first appeared in one of West End publications.”
And you’d think that a company that contributed so much to the world of Star Wars would have been showered with riches, but the company declared bankruptcy in 1998, lost the licensing deal with Lucasfilm, and, at one point, pivoted into the footwear business. And while these books have now been rendered non-canonical by the Disney-era of Star Wars, clearly these early works are still informing the franchise to some extent – especially if the next season of The Mandalorian saves a little money by having the characters’ adventures limited to a card table in a suburban basement.
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Top Image: Lucasfilm