Why Star Wars Outlaws Is Set During a Rarely Explored Original Trilogy Time Period

The Galactic Empire is the big bad of the Star Wars universe, and it seeks to control every aspect of life. However, Star Wars Outlaws will show how not even the Empire can be everywhere at once.

Star Wars Outlaws
Photo: Ubisoft

The Star Wars franchise consists of countless stories that stretch across an expansive timeline. Many narratives take place in different “years,” though it’s often easier to organize that timeline by putting it in the context of the various Star Wars movies. So far as that goes, few pieces of the Star Wars timeline have been explored as often (or as thoroughly) as the events surrounding the original trilogy of films.

So while it’s no surprise that developer Massive Entertainment is returning to the original trilogy for their upcoming Star Wars open-world title (Star Wars Outlaws), it’s a little surprising that they found a part of that particular timeline that we don’t see very often in modern Star Wars media.

Star Wars Outlaws is Ubisoft’s upcoming Star Wars project. In that game, players will control Kay Vess, a “scoundrel seeking freedom and the means to start a new life.” She isn’t a Jedi (as far as we know), and is actually closer to a Han Solo-type scoundrel character. Instead of teaming up with a Wookie, though, her known partners in crime are a hairy axolotl and what appears to be a reprogrammed BX-series commando droid. And instead of helping the Rebel Alliance, Kay is more interested in pulling off heists and rising through the ranks of the galaxy’s most wanted. How do these outlaws intend to get away with these ambitious crimes, you ask? Why wouldn’t local law enforcement (or even the Empire) devote all their efforts to arresting Kay? Well, it’s because they’re too busy fighting in the Galactic Civil War.

According to a recent behind-the-scenes video, Star Wars Outlaws will take place between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Why did the developers at Massive Entertainment choose that time period? Long story short, they didn’t. According to Creative Director Julian Gerighty, Lucasfilm suggested that era, though it actually ended up being the perfect choice for the studio’s various creative needs.

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As director Steve Blank explains, the Galactic Civil War hit its peak during that rough time period. The Galactic Empire devoted so many resources to hunting down the remnants of the Rebel Alliance that few people were left to fulfill any other duties (including local law enforcement). That power vacuum at the local level gave outlaws of every shape and stripe a chance to thrive. As a burgeoning scoundrel herself, Kay is looking to seize that opportunity to make a name for herself. If all the Rebels and Stormtroopers are off doing their own thing, why would Kay ever want to mess with any of that? Getting involved would only paint an extra target on her back.

While the decision to place Star Wars Outlaws between two of the greatest movies in the franchise addressed some narrative problems, it created other design issues. As Art and World Director Benedikt Podlesnigg stated, the studio couldn’t just recreate famous film locales as fans knew them. After all, Kay and her crew would be staying away from many of those same locations. As such, Massive Entertainment had to “build new points of interest” that still stuck to the established canon. Of course, since Outlaws will show fans a potentially new side of the Star Wars galaxy, it also provided the game’s art and world designers to create new planets players had never seen (such as the arid moon of Toshara).

Strangely enough, one of the only major pieces of legacy Star Wars media to explore that same time period was another video game. 1996’s Shadows of the Empire (and the books and comics related to that massive multimedia endeavor) notably covered many major events that occurred between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Of course, the Shadows of the Empire project is no longer canon. Interestingly, that same time period has become a slightly more popular setting in the various Star Wars comics published in recent years. Most notably, the comic series Star Wars: Bounty Hunters also explored the idea that the years between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi represented a particularly lawless time for the galaxy. Actually, you have to wonder if we’ll see some crossover between Outlaws and Bounty Hunters given some of the themes and ideas they apparently share.

Generally speaking, though, that particular time period hasn’t always gotten a lot of multimedia love compared to something like The Clone Wars, so it will be interesting to see how the first proper open-world Star Wars game ever chooses to present it.