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Star Wars Games

Entry updated 19 December 2017. Tagged: Game, Theme.

The Star Wars intellectual property is of interest as perhaps the archetypal example of an sf transmedia canon which has evolved from a series of films into a franchise which is now continued primarily through Ties (see Star Wars) and (commercially more significant) Videogames. These latter works deal variously with the adventures of characters who do not appear in the films but exist contemporaneously with them, with the distant past of the setting explored in the original trilogy, and with the future of that milieu after the end of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) (a period which George Lucas once intended to present in the cinema, but which has now apparently been ceded to other media). In contrast to Star Trek, which has tended to discard rejected visions of the continuity as the franchise evolved (see Star Trek Games), the complete apparatus of Star Wars-related works exist as part of a single more or less consistent whole, commonly referred to as the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It is notable, however, that the various earlier and later versions of the setting explored in the Expanded Universe tend to basically repeat the cultural setup and narrative dynamics of the films, with the partial exception of the New Jedi Order period, during which the post-Episode VI "New Republic" is faced with an extragalactic invasion.

Several prominent works associated with the franchise are Role Playing Games. Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (1987 West End Games [WEG]; rev 1992; rev 1996) designed by Greg Costikyan, Greg Gorden, Bill Slavicsek was a popular game, with a flexible, uncomplicated system which was well suited to portraying the intense action sequences of the films. Its development made it necessary to codify many previously vague aspects of the background, making it instrumental in the early evolution of the Expanded Universe. This game was also noted for the quality of its adventures, including the award winning Battle for the Golden Sun (1988 WEG) designed by Douglas Kaufman, set on a mysterious waterworld (see Under the Sea). The Star Wars Roleplaying Game (2000 Wizards of the Coast; 2007 rev vt Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Saga Edition) designed by Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins, JD Wiker is an unrelated work which uses a variant of the d20 system to allow play in several different time periods, and has also been well received.

The majority of the many games set in the Star Wars universe, however, are Videogames, of which more than a hundred have been released as of 2012. A well known early example is Star Wars (1983 Atari, Arcade) designed by Mike Hally, an action game in which the player reenacts the hero's attack on the "Death Star" – a gigantic spacegoing Weapons platform belonging to the evil Empire – in the closing scenes of Star Wars (1977). This was followed by a number of other games set during the period of the original movie trilogy, of which by far the most popular and influential were the space dogfighting game Star Wars: X-Wing (1993) and its several sequels. Subsequent Videogames tended to use more original elements in their fictions. Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995 LucasArts [LA], DOS, Mac; 1997 PS1) designed by Daron Stinnett, Ray Gresko is a First Person Shooter in which an Imperial agent turned mercenary must perform various missions for the virtuous Rebel Alliance. In the sequels, beginning with Star Wars: Jedi Knight – Dark Forces II (1997 LA, Win) designed by Justin Chin, the protagonist discovers that he has the arcane abilities required to become a member of the titular order, and must decide whether to follow the dark or the light side of their mystic Force. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996 LA, N64; 1997 Win) designed by Jon Knoles is an action-oriented game which was part of an attempt to create an "interquel" set between Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), including a Tie, Comics and the Videogame.

The release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999 led to greater interest in the franchise as a whole, including its associated games. The strength of the license apparently encouraged some developers to risk releasing unusually innovative designs, as in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) – an impressive Computer Role Playing Game set thousands of years before the films – and the rather more troubled Star Wars: Galaxies (2003), which returned to the interval between Episode IV and Episode V. Following the completion of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), development of new Videogames has probably become the most commercially important aspect of the franchise. Recently published examples include the action Adventure LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (2005 Traveller's Tales, GC, Mac, PS2, Win, XBox) designed by Jon Burton, James Cunliffe, John Hodskinson, James Kay, Glynn Scragg, a charming childrens' game which combines reenacting key moments from Episode I, Episode II and Episode III with characters and environments built from virtual versions of the titular toy blocks. This was followed by the action Adventure Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008 LA, PS2, PS3, Wii, XBox360), the basis for a new interquel set between Episode III and Episode IV, Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011) – essentially a replacement for the ultimately unsuccessful Star Wars: Galaxies – and Kinect Star Wars (2012 Terminal Reality, XB360). This latter work has proved popular despite less than ideal reviews; some fans regard its mix of lightsabre duels, starfighter combat and dancing with the original film's Princess Leia as ample justification for the purchase of the eponymous (and required) camera-based control system. [NT]

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