Dejarik, holo-chess, the Star Wars chess game. Less than two minutes of screen time and it has obsessed my thoughts for years. I realize it is largely set dressing: distracting background for the scene in which Luke practices the ways of Force-Sense. The animators of the chess pieces probably had the barest of internal logic in mind when they animated the scene. I am sure no rules were written down for the game, it just had to look credible and interesting. I always wanted to own a set of my own, perhaps even learn to play it.
That dream finally had a chance at reality when I discovered the company producing miniatures for Star Wars miniatures games had produced miniature versions of the dejarik pieces! I acquired them by trading some other gaming material I had--but no longer needed--and made a homemade board from wood. Now that I had the physical parts, I needed rules…
My search online resulted in several variations, which all seem to have vanished from the internet, except this one: Holochess by Mike Kelly, But even this one didn’t really seem accurate compared to what I knew from watching the movie. The rules I found seemed like variations on checkers more than chess. When it came down to trying it out, the game moves from the movie could not be duplicated with the fan-created rules available. I decided I would have to do it myself.
I have watched the scene many times over--as I said, I am obsessed--and a gradual pattern began to emerge. There is a definite turn order and even specific moves that vary for each piece that changes position. Some pieces never move, some move off screen (they can be seen in different positions as the scene progresses.) All that remains, in my own thought process, is to determine if an internal consistency can be applied where one might never have existed at all.
I start by mapping the progression of the pieces through the scene. Beginning with the initial placement and the board layout and marking each piece’s changed position as it is shown. The pieces start near to each other on the exterior circle rather than exactly opposite in the board. This suggests either the pieces have already been moved before we see them, or that the placement is not like traditional chess. SInce the pieces are lined up on the outer ring and the action seems to occur mostly on the inner spaces when we see it, I feel safe in assuming what we see is the start of the game.
Next I look at the individual pieces, making notes I hope will help me later in identifying patterns and perhaps pinning down what the pieces represent. The pieces of earth chess are idealized versions of a medieval court, why couldn’t the dejarik pieces be similar stylized avatars or icons?
Next time, I will break down the individual pieces.
Next. Part 2: Meet the players (or rather, the pieces.)