Saturday, 18 April 2015

Star Wars: The Setnin Sector

The official logo of the Setnin Sector
(designed by Paul Bateman)
What is the Setnin Sector?  For a simple analogy, take Jabba the Hutt and Prince Xizor and spread them out across dozens of planets.

In 1982 Mark Newbold created the character Jan Lomona, a tall handsome smuggler who oversaw the welfare of Ecaps city on the peaceful planet of A-Desando - a peace soon disrupted by the arrival of Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca as they searched for their friend Han Solo. In 1984, Jonathan Hicks created Goah Galletti, a naïve trader who threw himself in the deep end by offering his services to Jabba the Hutt, who laughed him out of his audience chamber. These two characters were created so that Mark and Jonathan could creatively interact with the Star Wars universe, as after several years of being thrilled by the adventures of Luke Skywalker and his friends they wanted to create stories of their own in the same vein.

The characters travelled and had adventures in the form of written stories which started with Mark Newbold’s novel ‘Quest for Freedom’ in 1982, and then followed by other short stories by Mark and Jonathan Hicks that were produced up until the present day. There were also many audio recordings, at least fifteen hour-long dramas recorded between 1985 and 1989 - which, sadly, were lost in a house move although snippets still survive – that featured Mark as Jan Lomona and Jonathan as Goah Galletti. They also did the many other voices of supporting characters, the number of which rose and rose. In all these stories, as well as visiting the primary worlds of the Star Wars universe, they visited new worlds created by Mark and Jonathan and, as time went on, they spent more time on these new worlds than they did on the established ones. The characters, planets and locations increased and a record was kept of the new creations for ease of reference.

It was apparent early on that the majority of the adventures the two characters were having were mainly in the underworld of the Star Wars galaxy – the stories were based around their dealings and confrontations with the undesirables of the universe. This was mainly borne from the fact that the galaxy at large, embroiled in a huge civil war, was already being addressed by the movies. It was the glimpse of the underbelly – the cantina in Episode IV, the bounty hunters in Episode V and Jabba’s Palace in Episode VI – that caught their attention.  More and more of the stories revolved around this slice of the Star Wars universe, and they became much darker than the explosive exploits of the films.

With so much of their own material set apart from the rest of the Star wars universe, Mark and Jonathan needed a place to put it all. It was originally scattered throughout the established setting but they had another idea – why not consolidate it all and give it a location of its own, much like the Corporate Sector Authority that Brian Daley wrote about in the original Han Solo novels? This would be an area of space especially created for their characters to play in, so they could have their own adventures without interfering with official Star Wars canon. This way, they could write and create and feel that they were actually part of the Star Wars galaxy without contradicting or interfering with it.

The Setnin Sector was born.

In 1987, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game hit the shelves and a whole new avenue of creativity was opened up. Both Mark and Jonathan played their characters Jan and Goah in the game, and with that the number of supporting characters and locations exploded. Two or three gaming sessions a week gave birth to so many new names and places that many have been long forgotten about or lost. In 1989, overwhelmed by the sheer number of new creations, a tome was create to store them in, a huge ring binder sectioned off into easily referenced sections. This tome became known as ‘The Folder’, and was passed around the group as required.

'The Folder' - Now more than quarter of a century old!

This created a fantastic central reference for all the players – should any single person want to create something for the Setnin Sector or run a roleplaying session there, then they were passed The Folder. This had everything they needed to run a game in Mark and Jonathan’s playground. It also became apparent that the Setnin Sector had taken on a life of its own; because there were no huge limitations on what could be created, both design- and story-wise, then people were free to come up with what they wished as long as it fell within the realities of the Star Wars universe. Mark and Jonathan had only one strict rule when creating material; anything created should not contradict or overshadow the established official Star Wars canon, either from the movies or the new Expanded Universe.


The Expanded Universe grew from the seeds planted by the sourcebooks for the West End Games roleplaying game, and then catapulted Star Wars back into the public eye with the Timothy Zahn ‘Heir to the Empire’ novels. Between the roleplaying game material and the slew of new novels there was always the possibility that something created for the Setnin Sector would be pushed out or contradicted, but the wonderful thing about the sector was that it was so separated from the rest of the Star Wars galaxy that everything that went on outside its borders had very little effect on it. Characters from the Setnin Sector could go into the official galaxy any time they wanted and interact with the established setting, as long as they didn’t contradict or overshadow anything. Back in the Setnin Sector, however, they could pretty much do as they pleased. This was true of all the new Expanded Universe material, through the Star Wars prequels, the Clone Wars cartoon and beyond. Even though material had been created detailing tens of thousands of years of Setnin history, and even forty years beyond Star Wars Episode IV, it didn’t contradict anything, and only minor changes were made to fit in with any unavoidable galaxy-spanning changes made by canon.

Many things changed during the roleplaying years. One of the primary ganglords, Glann Cipple, changed from a huge hulking multi-legged slug-like creature (our version of Jabba the Hutt) to a paranoid, angry, reclusive human being. Tunille Fulle, originally designed as a Rodian gunman, became a T-headed Entallian sharpshooter. Goah Galletti, through many personal tragedies, changed from a happy-go-lucky smuggler to an embittered, cynical assassin. Locations also changed – the lush, jungle world of Cawbate became a bland, barren location, and Dressle, the world’s local ganglord, moved from a mountaintop fortress to a constantly moving tandem of sail barges. Leogard, once a pleasant grassland world, became a strip-mined nightmare. The whole sector was in upheaval as new stories were told.

The characters also became very distinctive – Jan Lomona’s casual swagger, Mr. Spyte’s deviousness, Gern Omik’s insanity, Arkin’s loyalty, Latti Tellex’s cynicism. Each character was so well defined that they were easy to write for in stories and play in the games. They became solid, believable characters and their likes, dislikes, loyalties and rivalries played huge parts in the development of the sector. Although the majority of them were criminals in one way or another, they could be likeable rogues, and sometimes even heroes in their own right. As well as the Star Wars films, there were other movie influences on the direction the sector was taking; The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino, Once Upon a Time In America, The Untouchables… as classic serials had influenced the official Star Wars universe, gangster movies influenced the Setnin Sector.

All this was fan fiction – as none of it was official, why worry about contradicting or influencing official canon? Mark and Jonathan were very conscious, almost from the very beginning, about how they would interact with the official universe. It was one part respect for the canon and one part a calculated intention; there was a worry that if creations had no limit on their progress and do what they pleased then things would get out of control. By limiting the abilities and influences of the characters and locations, and their influence on the Star Wars universe as a whole, then everyone creating material worked on a level playing field and the Setnin Sector could exist in line with canon. This gave the sector a level of reality unheard of in almost all other fan created material as it co-existed alongside the official Star Wars universe and, while not official, felt like a solid part of it.

The games continued throughout the 1990s, and players came and went. The number of planets and characters increased and it became apparent that The Folder wasn’t enough to contain everything being created. This was mainly Jonathan Hicks’s fault as he couldn’t stop adding to the already mountainous amount of creations, and every new roleplaying session added even more to the pile. Other folders, notebooks and pads piled up and the sheer amount of material became overwhelming, almost impossible to use.

In the late 1990s, Mark Newbold began a project that would take several years to complete – he decided to transfer every piece of data in The Folder and the accompanying notebooks and put it all onto computer. All the characters, planets, locations, starships, creatures, alien races… everything would be put in digital format so that it could be easily referenced and transported. Little did Mark know how much work would be involved transferring and cross-referencing everything. In fact, the project became so large that not all the information was moved over. Another thing that came of this was that it was decided that the place was far too big to be called a sector. The Setnin Sector became the Setnin Region, and it was broken down into smaller quadrants of space within Setnin’s borders.

With the dawn of the internet age, the Setnin Sector found a new home – the Lightsabre website. Every piece of information was put online for the world to see, and short stories were written to support the material. These few stories became dozens of adventures, snapshots of life in the Setnin Sector, and to contain all this a timeline was created. The Setnin Sector, after many long years, felt truly alive.

Art by official Star Wars Atlas artist Modi

When Mark Newbold joined Jedi News in 2010, the Setnin Sector went with him.  All material create by others was removed and the content whittled down to the material created solely by Mark Newbold, Jonathan Hicks and collaborator Paul Squire. Now this huge, expansive slice of the galaxy had even larger exposure to the public. It was also realised that the sheer size of it was overwhelming – such a massive piece of the Star Wars galaxy surely couldn’t be ignored for so long, so another choice was made; why not separate the sector as a whole, and place it above the galaxy. The Setnin Sector became part of the Sedapard Cluster, a gas cloud above the galaxy where Setnin and other locations could exist.

With this final piece in place, the Setnin Sector finally found a home where it could stay.