Our question for Star Wars week, comes from The A.V. Club’s art guru, Nick Wanserski: What scene from a Star Wars game best captures the spirit of the films?
Super Star Wars and its sequels are absolutely crazy adaptations of the original movies, and not just because they explicitly shuffle the story. No its their relentless, inexplicable violence that really takes the absurdity cake. In the movie, Luke and Obi-Wan are repulsed by the senseless imperial slaughter of Jawas just living their Jawa lives. In the game, Luke invades their sandcrawler, murders about three times as many as the stormtroopers did, and then blows up their pet lava monster just to rub it in. Yet there are moments in Super Star Wars, when you’re running around destroying innocent flora and fauna, that tap directly into the same breathless exhilaration that makes kinetic scenes like the attack on the Death Star in Star Wars or the speederbike chase in Return Of The Jedi immortal. In “Land Of The Banthas,” the sixth stage, you’ll find yourself running forward, jumping off crumbling cliffs, and sticking your lightsaber right into the face of a stampeding pack animal until it explodes. When you slice up a Tusken Raider, you hit them so hard that they fly off the screen. Wholly inaccurate but also totally intoxicating, just like when the Millennium Falcon flies in to save the day.
Star Wars is treated with borderline religious reverence by its fans, which has always been strange to me because Star Wars is very silly. This is a series where entire planets are blown up as a negotiating tactic, and 3-foot tall puppets can topple a galaxy-spanning totalitarian regime. For my money, then, the only game to truly nail the space opera’s tone is The Software Toolworks’ Star Wars Chess. The standard chess pieces have been replaced with Star Wars characters, and every time one is captured, a little animation plays of the two duking it out. Because any piece can hypothetically capture any other piece this can lead to absurd scenarios, like a common Stormtrooper successfully killing Luke Skywalker or Chewbacca throwing Emperor Palpatine to his death. The best of the bunch depicts the unlikely scenario of C-3PO dispatching Darth Vader through sheer luck, first disarming his opponent and then delivering a killing blow quite by accident. Hey, if Han Solo could win the fastest ship in the galaxy in a game of cards, what’s stopping a bumbling droid from overthrowing the Empire with a similar stroke of good fortune?
It may not be the shiny, sexy, heart-pumping experience other Star Wars games strive to be, but I don’t think any game has captured the spirit of the films quite like Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. It’s colorful and loaded with whimsy but—as a family-friendly package—never particularly threatening. The dozens of playable characters each had their own skills that made them valuable in different scenarios, so punks like Greedo were just as useful as icons like Lando Calrissian and the ever-controversial Ewoks. As one of the early Lego [insert film license here] video games, it also lacked full voice acting, so the pantomimed performances kept the whole thing feeling like a light-hearted stage show. Other games focused on war, desolate planets, and complicated moral codes—concepts that exist in the Star Wars films but never felt like the point of the movies. Lego Star Wars II captured the fast-paced wonder and sense of fearless adventure that made the original films so captivating. Plus, Luke losing his hand is far less horrifying when he’s a Lego minifig.
My two favorite things to come out of the Star Wars prequels are Episode I Racer, as previously praised by Drew Toal, and the badass sound of seismic charges. These massively destructive bombs were introduced in Attack Of The Clones during an asteroid-field dogfight between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The idea is that they absorb all sound around them—which should be none, but hey, Star Wars doesn’t care about nonsense like physics—and when they explode, it’s all released in this beautiful, bassy gut-punch of a sound effect. The first game to integrate it was the GameCube’s Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. This might be the least cherished entry in Factor 5’s series of space-warfare romps, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no Rogue Squadron moment more satisfying than launching a seismic charge and listening as the game’s soundscape disappears only to explode outward in a massive shockwave of pure destruction. So much of that Stars Wars magic is in the sound design—the whir of lightsabers and the wail of TIE fighters—and being able to take my favorite effect and harness its power for real, Empire-crushing carnage? That’s pretty much a dream come true.
Shadows Of The Empire for the Nintendo 64 is not a flawless game. With Han Solo otherwise occupied coordinating with Jabba The Hutt’s couch, you’re demoted to the role of Dash Rendar, Solo’s Dollar Store understudy, for this story set between Empire and Jedi. An uncertain grasp of new technology made certain levels needlessly difficult, like a speeder bike chase that plays like you’re trying to ride a unicycle across an oil-slick while pants-mess drunk. But when Shadows Of The Empire got something right, it was amazing. The final level of the game was a battle around the Skyhook, the main villain’s orbital palace. For the first time, I was fully immersed in a 360-degree space battle with ships whizzing by on all sides. A Star Destroyer appeared to join the fray and you could skim along underneath, dwarfed by the massive warship. Enemy fighters would fly right by, uninterested in me as they pursued their own targets and adding to the feeling of being in the middle of something close to the free-for-all chaos of Return Of The Jedi’s epic space battle.
In its purest form, stripped of all the prequel fluff and the adventure-movie trappings, Star Wars is a story of redemption, of a man—a murderer, a monster—turning his back on a lifetime of evil and giving his life for one final act of good. Obsidian Entertainment’s Knights Of The Old Republic II has very little respect for most of Star Wars’ institutions and traditions, save for the power of that redemptive arc. (The game’s own restoration from buggy garbage to mostly playable via fan-produced fixes is a redemption story in its own right and what made the following anecdote possible.) One of the its best features is that it doesn’t just let you decide who your character currently is but also who they were. My personal Jedi Exile started the game bitter and angry, betrayed by her masters and indifferent to human suffering. But something happened as her bond with the Force slowly returned, as she connected with the damaged souls that made up her crew. She turned away from the dark side, even as she paid lip service to old, cynical beliefs. By the time the game ended, she stood again in the light, comforting a dying apprentice—one she hadn’t quite managed to save, who had fallen in battle against an unstoppable opponent—by gently reminding him that there was no death. There was only the Force.