It’s impossible to understate how much cultural influence Star Wars had on kids born in the ’70s. One of my first movie-going memories includes a drive-in theater showing the original Star Wars film (before it was titled A New Hope), the theatrical splendor somewhat muted by the limitation of drive-in window speakers. At recess, we didn’t play cowboys on the wild frontier. We pretended to be Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa. (Nobody ever chose to be Darth Vader. Darth Vader was the bad guy, plain and simple.)
We didn’t sit around pointing out plot holes in the latest film; we just enjoyed them. We enjoyed it all: the films, the toys, the made-for-TV Ewok movies, the Fisher-Price 45 RPM read-along record/storybook (yes, I had this, and I had it memorized), even the Christmas special.
Well, maybe not the Christmas special.
I even went to see all of the special edition versions of the original trilogy when they were released into theaters in the ’90s and subsequently purchased the VHS box set.
It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that I’ve experienced my fair share of Star Wars video games. For the Atari 2600, I owned both The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars the Arcade game, the latter of which remains the only Atari game that I ever “flipped” the score on. (If you don’t know what flipping the score means, go ask your parents.)
As the years progressed and consoles were replaced, I also played my fair share of the Jedi Starfighter games, as well as X-Wing vs Tie Fighter on my old Zenith 486 Windows 3.1 PC. I somehow missed out on the classic Knights of the Old Republic series, but I eventually logged a few hours in Star Wars The Old Republic before being turned off by the business model. And that was pretty much the extent of my Star Wars video gaming experience.
Until this past weekend.
Yes, last week, gaming behemoth Electronic Arts released its latest foray into the (somehow, lately) dangerous waters of the Star Wars IP, dubbed Jedi: Fallen Order. Fans have been clamoring for another good single-player Star Wars experience since the final edition of KOTR, after all. And while I admit it’s still early, many indications are that the new title fits the bill.
After some initial difficulties getting my order to go through directly via Origin, I was eventually able to purchase the title through Steam. Launching the game through Steam is still a little wonky because it connects to your Origin account first and even runs the game through the Origin launcher. Hopefully, this daisy-chain of DRM won’t eventually become a problem when relations between EA and Steam inevitably sour once again.
Jedi: Fallen Order takes place five years after Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi Order is thought to have been wiped out by the execution of Order 66, though of course there are still remnants of Jedi, Jedi padawans, and force-sensitives scattered throughout the galaxy that the new Galactic Empire is intent on snuffing out. Our protagonist, Cal Kestis, is one such force-user, and he finds himself on the run with a small band of resistance fighters early in the game.
Cal, voiced by Cameron Monaghan, is a fantastic character. He’s still a padawan, so he’s learning his Jedi powers along the way, but he’s not so green that he’s annoyingly naive. The player learns how to execute new powers and moves through a series of flashbacks of young Cal and his Jedi mentor. It’s a method that’s as effective at communicating backstory as it is a teaching tool.
As is the case with all young Jedi protagonists, Cal is joined by a plucky little droid, BD-1, with an important secret, a la R2-D2 in the original series. While he acts like a droid companion in the Star Wars universe, BD-1 shares some physical characteristics with another Disney character, Wall-E. Cal and BD-1 spend a majority of the game together, with BD-1 perched atop Cal’s shoulder like a pirate’s parrot. BD-1 also acts as a practical guide for the player, scampering across the room to point out important game mechanics and providing hints for puzzles if a player appears to be struggling. Together, Cal and BD-1 are an enjoyable pair through whom to experience the Fallen Order story.
I’ve heard the game itself compared to several other titles, and that’s probably due to the fact that it borrows a lot of different elements from various genres. I pre-ordered the game on the premise of an open-world Star Wars single-player RPG. Honestly, though, the game does not seem very open-world in the way that Skyrim or Fallout does. It reminds me a bit more of the Mass Effect games, where missions to various places are very story-centered and progression feels somewhat linear. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do think that open-world is a bit of a misnomer.
Other elements of the game seem to have been inspired by Assassins Creed (parkour), Tomb Raider (puzzle rooms), and any number of mouse-mashing-in-combination-with-special-attacks combat games. The story guides the player to planets both new and familiar. In true Star Wars fashion, it feels simultaneously intimate and epic, as we accompany Cal on a journey of personal growth that could have implications on a galactic scale.
I’ve put about six hours into Jedi: Fallen Order, and to this point, I’ve really enjoyed it. The game that EA has created is mostly new material but still feels very Star Wars. The creatures are Star Wars. The sound effects are Star Wars. The music is Star Wars. The characters are interesting and somewhat deep. The timeframe of the story is dark and desperate. The content is challenging. Out of four levels of difficulty, I chose level two and have still struggled in several combat or parkour situations. The visuals are very good.
One idle animation caught my attention in particular: If you leave Cal alone for long enough, he’ll run his fingers through the top of his bright-red hair, almost as if it’s a nervous habit.
Has EA created the next great Star Wars game? While it’s a little early to tell, I think it’s come fairly close. All I know is I can’t wait to log back into a galaxy far, far away.