The mere mention of its name conjures images of luxury. Lights. Excess. And sin.
And money. Money by the starshipful.
In a galaxy spanning millions of systems, where corruption and dark ambitions run rampant, the depravities one might wish to sample are as limitless as space itself. From spice addiction and forbidden knowledge to indulgences of the flesh of any number of species — if there’s a demand for something, then someone, somewhere, can supply it.
Among such varied vices, one constant throughout the galaxy is the love of gambling. Whether at Nar Shaddaa’s sabacc tables, Umgul’s blobstacle course, Coruscant’s garbage pit races or Vorzyd V’s Cosmic Chance boards, there is no end to the number of credits one can win — or lose — pursuing instant wealth. But of all the popular gambling havens, few have attained the notoriety of the Wheel. Its reputation for debauchery unparalleled, its gladiatorial arenas the stuff of legend, the Wheel is known far and wide as the place to go for those looking to risk it all….
The Wheel, the most opulent gambling resort in the Star Wars galaxy, was created in 1978 by comics legends Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino for a storyline in Marvel Comics’ Star Wars issues #18-23, leaving an indelible mark on the Expanded Universe. Since then, it has been a major setting for stories set during the Clone Wars, and more than a hundred years into the future in Dark Horse’s Republic and Legacy series, as well as featuring in the Essential Guide books and many roleplaying game titles. This is its story.
Wheeling and Dealing
The Wheel is a city-sized space station located in the Besh Gorgon System, out past Hapes in the Mid Rim. As its name implies, the station’s main fuselage resembles a massive rotating ring, lined with nearly a hundred luxury docking piers. Two long spokes intersect at a bulbous promenade at the hub, each section containing a full battery of service droids programmed to attend to every need.
The luxury ports, reserved for the most favored of guests, are an amazing scientific achievement. Built by Bolzi Design & Transmogrification, a gifted Ugor architectural firm, the system uses a morphometric technology enabling the station’s computer to analyze an approaching ship and alter a port’s structure and cabling to match its particular needs. Literature circulated by the station’s advertising gurus claims the ports can accommodate “any ship design known or unknown.” Anyone living within a thousand light-years of the Wheel should be well familiar with its popular slogan: “Space may be freezing, but here the action’s hot, so book your trip today — at the Wheel, where no one gets left out in the cold!”
Beyond the luxury docks, thousands of buoys dot the station’s surface for general admission. Shuttles transport guests to their rooms — or, if they can’t wait to drain their credit chips, directly to the sprawling sea of casinos lining the great ring. Gladiatorial arenas fill the central hub, in which warriors of countless species battle to the death for patrons’ entertainment and wagering.
Throughout its long existence, the Wheel has survived empires and democracies alike, by remaining resolutely neutral in virtually all disputes. Built 52 years before the Battle of Naboo by Doffen Gaitag of Qiraash, the station enjoyed immediate success as one of the galaxy’s premier gambling dens. Gaitag’s first three successors — Count Vrescot, Kelek the Blue, and Dominic Raynor — each expanded the station’s facilities, while also exploiting them for personal gain. While these eccentric personalities helped grow the Wheel’s legend, their selfishness also helped demolish its reputation.
Skijid Vrescot, a cephalopoid J’feh crimelord and the appointed Count of Cheelit, purchased the station from Gaitag for the sole purpose of opening a vast distribution network of Tirefin spice throughout the Outer Rim Territories. The tentacled spice dealer renovated the station’s recycling systems, which he used to refine the Tirefin for increased potency.
Spice-dealing, however, can be a most dangerous gamble, and Vrescot soon learned the price of losing to the wrong opponent. The rubbery crimelord’s tenure at the Wheel proved one of the shortest when he made the mistake of crossing the Glottalphib piratess Kliskud. Vrescot had promised Kliskud free reign to terrorize ships in the vicinity, in return for the firespitter’s help in eliminating rival spice dealers. But when Kliskud’s activities made travel so dangerous it scared away many high-stakes players, Vrescot abruptly ended their association. The affair left a bad taste in Vrescot’s mouth — but not in that of Kliskud, who found the J’feh quite tasty, if a bit tough to chew.
As the Wheel Turns
Following Count Vrescot’s death, the Republic seized the Wheel long enough to shut down the crimelord’s spice operation. Kelek the Blue, a Tefaun banker also called Kelek the Insensate, purchased the Wheel and, as its third administrator, introduced the now infamous Big Game. With egalitarian disregard for species, gender or creed, this brutal competition featured gladiators from around the galaxy pummeling, maiming and goring one another to the concluding gasp and very last droplet of plasma.
While the Wheel’s wealthiest patrons initially embraced the vicious spectacle, the staggering influx of the galaxy’s basest scoundrels inevitably drove big spenders away. In the wake of reduced revenues, Kelek indebted herself to the InterGalactic Banking Clan, hoping its financial backing would help regain lost clientele. Ultimately, though, she failed to get out from under. When the Banking Clan called in its investment, Kelek was unable to make payment and was forced to sell her remaining shares to Tionese business mogul (and widely reputed gangster) Dominic Raynor, owner of Raynor Mining Enterprises. He, in turn, siphoned off millions in Wheel profits during his tenure, to fund mining opportunities on Bespin, Ota and other worlds.
The Banking Clan could never prove Raynor’s embezzlement, but the station survived the loss of credits due to its immense popularity. Raynor, a noted gambler, nearly doubled the number of casinos — many fixed in his favor, of course — and brought the station to new heights of prosperity. The Wheel regained its status as the preeminent gambling mecca, though Raynor’s corruption was no less than that during Vrescot’s spice-dealing days.
Eventually, Raynor amassed sufficient wealth to buy out the Banking Clan’s shares — but prosperity breeds envy. Iaco Stark, Raynor’s former business partner, had recently acquired the ancient Jubilee Wheel starport in the Bright Jewel Cluster, whose betting palaces now appeared distinctly “venerable” compared to Raynor’s flourishing gambler’s paradise. As such, the Wheel’s fourth administrator found himself shellacked with a lawsuit from his bitter rival.
The enmity between the two businessmen went back to some unspecified incident in the Corporate Sector involving a Sith amulet, Zanibar cannibals and Stark’s one-time girlfriend, holo-starlet Riva Denais (still reportedly missing). Stark’s lawsuit against the Wheel claimed 5,073 counts of copyright infringement — mostly preposterous and unfounded — including the alleged theft of the Jubilee‘s ring design, exploiting a game of chance called the “Jubilee Wheel” and plagiarizing its congeneric appellative.
Determined to outfox his competitor, Raynor produced convenient proof that his station had been officially registered as the Marvelous Wheel by Administrator Gaitag, then counter-sued Stark, seeking damages for pain and suffering and emotional duress. But when Stark obtained representation from celebrity Qiraash attorney Qim “The Devourer” Delio — a.k.a. Qimberly Gaitag-Delio, granddaughter of the “Marvelous” Wheel’s founder — Raynor pawned the station off to Cody Sunn-Childe, who became the fifth administrator. Raynor went on to serve as administrator of Bespin’s Cloud City, which he ran with equal corruption.
Cody Sunn-Childe’s administration, and the dawn of the Clone Wars, brought greater intrigue and hazard to the Wheel. Sunn-Childe was a capitalist and Separatist sympathizer, hailing from the planet Jashwa, home to a Sullustan cousin-species. During his reign, Jedi Knights Quinlan Vos and Aayla Secura intercepted a Separatist data disk outlining a planned attack on Kamino. This information enabled the Republic to execute a calculated defense of the planet, while allowing the Kaminoans to transport vital cloning equipment, thereby preserving the Republic’s soldier works.
Sunn-Childe “stepped down” as administrator after a mere five years, shortly following the Republic’s demise, when Imperial troops conducted a hostile nationalization of the Wheel in a backroom deal made with Senator Simon Greyshade of Columex. In exchange for a large percentage of the gambling profits in Greyshade’s constituency, the newly formed Galactic Empire awarded the senator control of the station.
Disgusted at the moral turpitude of the Republic, the Separatists and the Empire all, Sunn-Childe became a radical freedom fighter. The Jashwik had violently resisted the Imperial takeover of the Wheel, and now the charismatic warlord embarked on a mission of uninhibited savagery against the new government. This earned him the designation “Enemy of the Empire,” and made him a folk hero to countless beings, including Socorran businessman Lando Calrissian, as well as Imperial resister Earnst Kamiel of the Justice Action Network. Sunn-Childe himself, however, abruptly gave up the fight as hopeless, disappearing to parts unknown.
Spin-Doctoring the Wheel
Ever the entrepreneur, Simon Greyshade increased Wheel profits many times over during his two decades as the sixth administrator. In fact, Greyshade was among the first to suggest the Republic generate income from gambling. Senator Greyshade’s bill called for Republic investment in new casinos throughout his sectors in the Commonality, in return for the majority of the profits. While the galactic leisure industry was suffering record losses due to the Separatist Crisis, casinos were, on average, continuing to generate steady profits.
Many public figures, including Viceroy Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, endorsed Greyshade’s plan, claiming many would be more willing to try their hand at gambling than to entrust their money in a bank that might not be part of the Republic tomorrow. Others, however, such as Alderaan’s Senator Bail Organa, vehemently disagreed. Though Greyshade’s proposal met with skepticism and derision from other lawmakers, he weathered the negativity, convinced the idea would be accepted. His foresight paid off: Upon declaring himself Emperor, Palpatine called a private meeting with Greyshade to revisit his gambling proposal.
The deal that saw Greyshade installed as Wheel administrator was eminently profitable for all involved (save the ousted Cody Sunn-Childe), and the station was granted immunity-sphere status. This barred Imperial ships from docking and officers from interfering in the casinos’ management. Greyshade, in turn, paid generous taxes to the Emperor. To avoid offending visiting Imperial dignitaries, Wheel policy molded itself to the Empire’s anti-alien bias. To that end, Wheel Security operated under the assumption that all nonhuman species were guilty until proven innocent — providing plentiful fodder for the Big Game.
Greyshade launched the Wheel to new heights of success. His secret: Keep them entertained, and they’ll keep you in credits. Only the best musicians, such as Tinial’s Tway, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Geggis Pek and Evar Orbus, played the Crimson Casino Lounge, and only the best warriors — Catumen, Wookiees, Bitthævrians and even the odd Dandelion Warrior — fought in the Big Game.
All good things must end, however, and the events heralding Greyshade’s twilight began shortly after the Battle of Yavin. At that time, Rebel hero Luke Skywalker had fallen ill during a Jedi meditation exercise, prompting Princess Leia and swashbuckler Han Solo to violate an Imperial military containment zone to get him medical attention.
Solo had briefly encountered Greyshade during his days in the Imperial Academy, but held no real grudge against the man. Leia, on the other hand, was displeased about visiting the Wheel. Having previously suffered Greyshade’s unwanted attentions while serving in the Imperial Senate, she knew him to be corrupt; what’s more, he had twice asked her to marry him despite being double her age, and both times she’d spat out a disgusted rejection. Still, she had little choice if she wanted to save Luke’s life.
En route, the Rebels ran afoul of Commander Zertik Strom, leader of the Imperial forces guarding the zone, who pursued them to the Wheel, ignoring its sanctuary status. As the Rebels stealthily searched there for medical aide, Stormtroopers raided the station, alarming its quasi-omniscient central computer. Master-Com, an ambulatory supercomputer, alerted Greyshade to Strom’s arrival. The former senator was furious, remembering all too well the Imperial takeover that had ousted Sunn-Childe. Greyshade had paid his share of taxes and expected the Empire to uphold its side of the bargain. He threatened to notify the Emperor when Strom claimed the power to seize the station. Relenting, however, Greyshade demanded a Rebel be left alive for questioning. Strom agreed — but secretly ordered his men to leave none alive to expose the set-up.
Eventually, Strom’s troops rounded up their quarries. Solo and his Wookiee co-pilot, Chewbacca, were forced to fight in the Big Game, while Leia was ushered to Greyshade’s Executive Tower. Realizing Strom was effecting an Imperial takeover, Greyshade knew he’d be powerless to stop him. To his surprise, he found he cared less for the station than he did for Leia’s survival, for her beauty still entranced him like no other’s.
Luckily, Master-Com was not so powerless. Although Strom destroyed several of the supercomputer’s droid bodies, Master-Com kept dispatching new bodies until finally subduing the officer. The automaton escorted Strom to an antechamber, where Greyshade agreed to an uneasy truce: He’d let the Empire have the Wheel if he could keep Leia. Though he knew she loathed him, and that this would end the station’s neutrality, he couldn’t bear to see her hurt.
Covertly, Wheel Security raided Strom’s ship and found the stolen profits, which they moved to Greyshade’s private yacht, Spoilt Sport. Meeting with the Rebels, Greyshade offered to let them go free if Leia accompanied him when he escaped. She accepted — but the escape never came to pass, as Strom revoked Greyshade’s administrative authority and shot him in the chest. Releasing Leia, Greyshade unleashed a proton grenade, and the massive blast killed Strom, eradicating Greyshade (and, seemingly, Master-Com) in the process.
Rich Handley is the editor and co-founder of Hasslein Books (hassleinbooks.com), the managing editor of RFID Journal, a frequent contributor to Bleeding Cool Magazine and the author of four reference books: Timeline of the Planet of the Apes, Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes, The Back to the Future Lexicon and The Back to the Future Chronology (the latter with Greg Mitchell). He has written numerous articles and short stories for the licensed Star Wars universe and helped edit Realm Press’ Battlestar Galactica comics. A reporter at Star Trek Communicator magazine for several years, Rich helped GIT Corp. compile its Star Trek: The Complete Comic Book Collection DVD-ROM set, and also wrote the introductions to IDW’s Star Trek newspaper strip reprint books.
Abel G. Peña is the author of dozens of Star Wars fiction and nonfiction articles for Star Wars Insider, Star Wars Gamer, Star Wars Fact Files and StarWars.com, a co-author of Vader: The Ultimate Guide and Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide, and a translator of rare and forgotten Star Wars comics. Abel’s work has also appeared in the anthology Italy From a Backpack, Dungeon/Polyhedron and the Wizards of the Coast official website. Abel can be found at abelgpena.com,Facebook and Twitter.