Since 1999, George Lucas has been forsaking Star Wars fans like Han Solo shaking Mynocks off the Millennium Falcon's hull. By the time Revenge Of The Sith debuted in '05, even many diehards realized that the most important fantasy story of their childhoods had somehow become the single greatest aesthetic betrayal of their time. A new generation—or a pair of them—had their own version of Bob Dylan going electric.
But with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the moldy old corpse of Star Wars has a pulse again. Gamers get the chance to step into the patent-leather boots of Darth Vader himself in the game's opening level. The sight of Vader calmly striding across a busy battlefield, lifting enemies into the air, then tossing them into a nearby abyss, brings a double shot of gravitas back to the Star Wars universe. There's the sense of foreboding in these opening moments, a feeling that some truly evil shit is about to go down.
After murdering a Jedi, Vader discovers the Jedi's son—who is, surprise, "strong with the Force"—and he decides to train the boy. Twenty years or so later, that boy has grown into Vader's apprentice, a curiously likeable Jedi-killing bad-ass with a receding hairline. He's still trying to get the hang of his Force powers at an age when most kids are trying to get the hang of driving a stick-shift.
Lucas' prequels had less menace than a $2 carnival ride; there was always the sense that all the characters were on some sort of moving Disney attraction, and that in order to survive, they just needed to keep their arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. But The Force Unleashed? It's lousy with menace. Killing Jedi, who represent all that's good and just in the Star Wars universe, not only makes for great videogame drama, it also takes Star Wars back to its messy, sometimes morally ambiguous origins.
Beyond the game: The lightsaber and Force powers can be upgraded and customized, giving the game a welcome role-playing quality.
Worth playing for: Using the Force initially feels awkward, but once gamers get the hang of it, dealing out death and destruction via fingertip lightning and slick-looking lightsaber tosses will bring out their own personal Dark Sides.
Frustration sets in when: Did anyone QA test this incredibly buggy game? Plus, at least two of the game's battles are prohibitively difficult. In the words of Yoda, "Ridiculous amounts of patience you must have."
Final judgment: The Force Unleashed is simply the best thing to happen to the Star Wars franchise in decades. Being able to literally destroy this once-beloved world provides a long-overdue catharsis; this is a forsaken fan's chance to give Lucas' world the bird. But once all that residual anger has been purged, the game suddenly turns into a warm homecoming. A more appropriate title might have been Star Wars: Redemption.