Star Wars: The Licensing Strikes Back

Love them or hate them, the Star Wars movies spawned some excellent games… and terrible ones.

By Matthew Tidman. Posted 01/14/2011 19:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Artwork

To start off, let me say that I am a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise. While I will not even try to defend the prequel trilogy, the original three movies are, in my honest opinion, some of the best movies ever created and stand the test of time even though they’re set in a sci-fi realm, something that is mostly unheard of. But when it comes to Star Wars games, I’m on a bit more shaky ground.

Star Wars: Battle for Naboo ScreenshotStar Wars games are sometimes epics of unparalleled quality, and then again some are not even worth the cost of the CD/DVD/Cartridge they’re programmed on. Yet, it seems like they very rarely fall in the middle, and in accordance with the universal law of suck, it’s much more likely for one of the games to be released in the latter category than the former. According to Wikipedia, there have been a total of 32 games released for various Nintendo platforms from NES to Wii. Please note: this is not counting duplicate games with the same title, some of which have varying content depending on the limitations of the systems they appeared on. Yet of those games, only a handful have been critically acclaimed. However, every single time a new Star Wars game is announced, there is excitement from the fanbase at large. My big question for you is “why?”

It’s not because Star Wars fans are stupid. Indeed, some of the most intelligent people you are ever likely to meet have spent some of their free time dressing up like Jedi and attending conventions. Star Wars as a franchise seems to defy labels and brings in people from all walks of life to experience its joys– and crushing lows. I am more inclined to believe that it is actually this fact that makes people excited about new games more than the perceived quality of the prior products.

That’s not to say that a few good games in the past have not paved the way for higher expectations than the games deserve. The Super Star Wars series that hit SNES in the ’90s was effectively some of the first high-profile games dealing with the Star Wars saga to reach a wide range of people– and they were good. Really good. They’re games that can still be played and enjoyed today. Oh, they changed around the story a bit. For example, I don’t remember the scene where Luke forces his way into a moving Sand Crawler dodging lasers in order to rescue R2-D2 and C-3PO from the Jawas. But these changes, far from being heretical, contributed to the game instead of taking away from it. By introducing new plot elements, the game manages to bring a fresh look to a story that everyone who played the games already knew inside and out.

So, does that mean that every Star Wars game should get a free pass? Oh, most definitely not. Take, for example, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, one of the first gaming entries into the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I remember the hype for this 1996 cross-multimedia event. There was a book written, a comic series by DarkHorse, trading cards by Topps, and cementing the whole thing together was the video game, which was supposed to bring new levels of backstory as a canon interquel between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. And it was decent, but not great, something that can be said about of lot of the canon entries into the series since the original trilogy. It is also not a game that aged well. Looking at it outside of the lens of its original hype, Shadows of the Empire is a clunky first person shoot that features little charm and plenty of generic hallways to run down while gunning whatever enemy you will face next. Thankfully, the vehicular areas were fantastic and would point to later console successes such as the Rogue Squadron series.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Star Wars games should not be looked at in the perspective of the franchise they belongs to. We shouldn’t get so excited about a new game being announced before getting a chance to experience how it plays. Otherwise, the license can and will strike back at our expectations in ways that threaten to burn us out. Maybe instead of going into each game expecting to be wowed, we should go into each game expecting it to suck and being pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t. Or maybe that’s what we already do. Either way, you can bet that we’ll see plenty more Star Wars games for years to come.

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