If you’re of a certain age, then it’s sometimes hard not to look at the plethora of Star Wars themed content available within pop culture and marvel at how far the franchise that is loved so widely, and so deeply, has come.
Star Wars’ barren years – a 16-year wait for new stories between 1983’s Return Of The Jedi and 1999’s The Phantom Menace are long gone. These are exciting times for fans of George Lucas’ space opera.
Last year, season 2 of the excellent The Mandalorian proved that there is a huge appetite for more tales culled from the universe created 43 years ago. There’s said to be at least seven new movies currently in production, and Disney+ responded to the lavish praise awarded to The Mandalorian by announcing that another 10 TV series are incoming.
And games? Well, since you asked…
This week it was announced that EA – who have enjoyed the exclusive rights to create Star Wars content since 2012, the year Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney for an astonishing $4 billion dollars – aren’t the only company who will be turning their hand to future Star Wars titles.
“We’re looking to work with best-in-class teams that can make great games across all of our IP,” said Lucasfilm Games VP, Douglas Reilly. “We’ve got a team of professionals here who can work with the developers, shape the stories, shape the creative, shape the games, to make them resonate with fans and deliver across a breadth of platforms, genres, and experiences so that all of our fans can enjoy the IPs that they know and love.”
EA’s track record with the franchise has been patchy, to say the least. 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront I ended up being a better game than it’s disastrous launch and subsequent microtransactions scandal suggested.
2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was probably their best attempt yet, while often being repetitive and cumbersome. Truth is, the best Star Wars titles in existence are the Traveller’s Tales made Lego Star Wars series. Despite there being well over 100 Star Wars titles, truth be told, the vast majority of them are Bantha poo.
Some have simply been too ambitious for the devices that hosted them. 2003’s Star Wars: Flight Of The Falcon, for example, was a 3D flight based shooter for the Gameboy Advance that was so inappropriately ambitious for the capabilities of the system it was created for, it felt a little bit like trying to fight a Rancor armed only with a toothpick.
Others were seemingly created by someone smoking whatever it is that Jabba The Hutt is puffing away on in the early scenes of Return Of The Jedi. We’re talking about the likes of 2000’s bonkers Star Wars: Demolition, which revolved around battling other Star Wars characters… in tanks.
Some, like 2012’s Kinect Star Wars, even felt like they were made by a team who actively hated the licence they were being entrusted with adapting. The ‘Galactic Dance-Off’, where characters like Han Solo and Boba Fett grooved to Star Wars-themed pop hits, is such a low point in the history of the franchise… well, from its place in the gutter, you could see right up the nose of The Phantom Menace.
You have to look back to BioWare’s 2003 title Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic for a game that can legitimately be described as great. It helps that the story is better than at least five of the films – you’d expect as much from Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer on the first two Mass Effect games – and that, in HK-47, it features one of the franchises very best characters.
But it helps that the game eschews the expectation that has shackled so many Star Wars games before and after. Set thousands of years before the events of the films, it does not feature any of the big names – Luke, Vader, Chewie and so on – so it’s a game that is exactly what it wants to be, not what it feels like it needs to be. It’s an evocative, textured long-player, not a ‘Greatest Hits’. It’s Star Wars, but in heart and soul, not just the outer casing.
My hope for the raft of new Star Wars video games is that developers learn the lessons of The Mandalorian and even 2016’s Rogue One movie: that the Stars Wars universe is so vast, so nuanced, with so many questions posed that have never been answered, that it really has the freedom to be anything it wants to be as long as there’s lightsabers and swooshing.
But more importantly, that anyone who spends time in the universe comes away feeling like a little kid seeing A New Hope for the very first time. If they can keep that in mind, we’re in for a helluva ride.