Lately, I've been reading the Star Wars Saga RPG books, the square, d20 ones with a system that felt a little bit like a field test for 4e. These are, I have to say, really good books. I got on this kick because I discovered the line had gone out of print, and I wondered if there were any treasures I wanted to pull from it. I was most in curious about the "Galaxy of Intrigue" sourcebook because a book about an intrigue campaign is ambitious and right up my alley.
So, through gifting, used purchases and trading, I got may hands on a handful of the books and started going through them. By and large, they surprised me with how good they were. The rules are actually pretty good, surprisingly so. The layout was clean and stylish, the square format worked far better than I expected it to. The content was fascinating. Where the authors had leeway to talk about the setting and the game, it was this great balance between a love of the source material and a focus on actual games.
Sadly, there's plenty of gamer detritus as well. It's clear there was a standard format the books needed to adhere to, which meant that one way or another you could expect to spend a lot of pages on new races (most of whom were uninteresting) new droids, new ships and new gear. In many of the books, Galaxy of Intrigue in particular, I felt cheated of the good content by what I perceived as filler.
Now, the reality is that I'm sure that there were plenty of gamers who viewed things exactly opposite way, and who looked at each new book as a collection of crunchy bits first, with this unnecessary wrapper. Hell, for the completists, much of the information I found interesting was old hat to them. And that's the sad reality of trying to manage Star Wars as a product - who is your audience and how do you serve them. Hardcore fans? Gearheads? Ignorant enthusiasts? In my mind, they struck this balance as well as it could be managed.
Now, I should note I played the hell out of the old West End Games Star Wars back in the day, starting from the first edition and reacting skeptically to improvements as they came along and cheerfully abusing loopholes. To this day, it's one of my favorite RPGs of all time (such wonderful character creation!), and I've kind of historically flinched at the idea of playing it withs something crunchier, but man, I have to admit that I would play this Star Wars Saga version, and probably enjoy the heck out of it.
Now, there's a bit of an apples and oranges comparison here. One of the great things about the new system is the expanded universe. Now, don't get me wrong, I think that Star Wars canon has gotten so big and cumbersome that trying to absorb it all is a recipe for self-destruction. But there's enough of it to allow for cherry picking, especially if you're not too worried about violating canon as laid out in some out-of-print paperback. You can really just do a "good parts version" and really rock out.
This is especially true of the _history_ of the setting. I'm really indifferent to the fates of the kids of the heroes, but the fact that they did sourcebooks for Knights of the Old Republic and The Force Unleashed was awesome. A cynic might just point to it as grabbing onto some current (at the time) hotness, but the reality is that the video games were set up beautifully with the ability to play in the sandbox without stepping on the parts worn thin by overexposure. That translates fantastically to tabletop play.
Anyway, as I've noted, the books have gone out of print. Some of the rarer ones already go for stupid amounts on the used market, and for all that I think they were a fantastic handling of a very difficult-to-handle property, I'm spacing over the game's grave, so to speak.
Rumor has it that someone else has picked up the license. I don't know who they are, and I wish them all the luck in the world with it, but I don't really know if I'm excited for it. SW Saga did the job really well, well enough that it's going to be hard for the next comer to measure up.