While Star Wars movies and TV shows follow similar characters and plots, it’s in video games that new storytelling ground is being broken.
For as ambitious and far-reaching we’re told the galaxy in Star Wars apparently is, it’s no secret that, at least in recent years, LucasFilm has done a haphazard job of fleshing out the same 50-year time period.
The Skywalker Saga – otherwise known as Episodes I through IX – has been the primary focus for creatives working in the Star Wars universe pretty much since Disney’s acquisition of the licence in 2012. It’s an understandable move, given the opportunity to pepper fans with endless memberberries, but it’s still disappointing given the vast potential of stories to be told elsewhere in the timeline.
There’s a new hope in the form of James Mangold’s upcoming movie, of course, allegedly intended to cover events preceding even the Jedi order – though who knows if it’ll ever get made. For the time being, it’s in Star Wars that we see new storytelling ground being broken. Because while the likes of Ubisoft and EA are still largely confined to exploring the same Skywalker Saga period, it’s here where we get to experience the galaxy somewhat afresh through the introduction of new characters, creatures and planets.
Disney+ can have its mediocre series based on pre-established characters like Obi-Wan and Boba Fett. Heck, even The Mandalorian, a once promising show, has slowly turned into a live-action successor to Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars series.
In terms of video games, though, players are regularly afforded the chance to enjoy stories that haven’t been told before – either in the current Disney canon or the previous Legends stories that precede it – because developers generally don’t place well-established characters in major roles. Instead, they recognise the draw of placing original heroes at the forefront of their narratives.
We’ve already seen how exciting Star Wars can be in video games this year – multiple times. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor might have been a sequel to a 2019 game, but it was a more fully formed experience in every way. Cal Kestis is a protagonist now confident in his abilities as a padawan turned Jedi master on the run. This is depicted in the countless ways he’s able to navigate the world with the likes of wall running, air dashing and teleporting. For the very first time in HD, Respawn delivered a Star Wars game that let players live out their very own Jedi fantasy.
Then there’s the series’ loveable droid, BD-1, which has rapidly emerged as a breakout star in its own right.
This is in direct contrast to the Star Wars movies and TV shows released thus far, which always seem to be unwilling to show Jedi at full power. In the sequel trilogy, Rey is very much a Jedi in training, similar to Luke’s journey during Episodes 4, 5 and 6, while members of the Jedi Council in the prequels, such as Yoda and Mace Windu, were barely allowed off the bench. Sure, being a Jedi is a hard life, but it can also be fun at times. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor expertly captures this sentiment, despite the high-stakes nature of its story.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor was also willing to further expand on the idea that the Jedi aren’t perfect people. This is evident in the game’s main antagonist: a High Republic-era Jedi turned bad, Dagan Gera. What’s this? A Star Wars game where the main enemy you’re fighting isn’t an Inquisitor or member of the Sith?
Concepts like this shouldn’t feel worthy of note. Yet somehow, almost 50 years since the universe was born, it is. Even the decision to lop one of Dagan Gera’s arms off early on in the story pays dividends lore-wise, forcing players (in the role of Cal) to confront a dark Jedi who must wield his lightsaber in part using the Force.
In some ways, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is made even more impressive for all the ways it offers up unique lore ideas of its own while still finding the time to pay respect to those first presented elsewhere. I’ve already mentioned the game’s inclusion of High Republic, a multimedia book project focused on the Jedi in a story which takes place hundreds of years before the events of the prequels.
Meanwhile, Merrin, one of the breakout characters from Respawn’s games, is a Nightsister born on the planet of Dathomir who’s portrayed with so much more nuance and depth than in any live-action movie or TV show. It’s no wonder Cal, Merrin, BD-1, Greeze and Cere have quickly become my preferred cast of ensemble characters in any Star Wars media.
This trend of modern Star Wars games, which treat both their source material and players with respect, only looks set to continue. Mere weeks ago, the team at Ubisoft Massive rolled out the red carpet for its own open-world entry, Star Wars: Outlaws. It places you in the shoes of Vay Kess, a scoundrel forced to survive between the events of Episodes 5 and 6. She’s joined by Nix, a new dog-like companion belonging to a race created by Ubisoft specifically for the game.
It remains to be seen just how differently Star Wars: Outlaws plays when compared to, say, Red Dead Redemption or Assassin’s Creed. That said, from the extended gameplay released so far, we can already see how it will give us opportunities to explore its chosen Star Wars era in a way the TV shows and movies aren’t able to. Footage shows how players will be able to jump from hideout to town to ship before blasting off into space.
Crucially, however, Kay and Nix – similar to Cal and BD-1 – are conduits for new stories in the universe. It’s Star Wars storytelling that isn’t beholden to anyone with Skywalker for a surname. Even spin-off movies like Rogue One and Solo have major ties to events we’ve already seen, but the same isn’t the case for the Star Wars Jedi games – or, seemingly, Star Wars: Outlaws.
The only bummer with this modern generation of Star Wars video games is that it took until 2019, with the release of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, for fans to be given the chance to explore the universe away from the Skywalker family. As is evident, this is only set to continue now that publishers other than EA can chime in with their own unique stories, introducing more heroes, locations and ideas we haven’t seen before.
Just as 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic separated itself from the prequels by being set thousands of years prior, I’m hopeful that we’ll receive similarly distanced Star Wars video games in the near future. For now, however, developers are doing a good job filling in the gaps amongst the Skywalker Saga period in a way the movies and TV shows simply aren’t willing to. That may change the further removed from Episode IX we get. Until that time, it’s video games where the most interesting and ambitious Star Wars storytelling is taking place.