Like I said in the last entry, this game doesn’t start with the standard opening crawl. Instead it has a huge ship flying overhead at a low angle. Is this a repeat of the opening shot of A New Hope? Nope! It’s a fake-out. This ship is a hollowed-out junker, being hauled off to be disassembled. The camera pulls back to reveal a vast scrapyard.
Perhaps worried that people will freak out over the lack of opening crawl, the designer decided to make this vista as “Star Wars”-y as physically possible. Tie fighters scream by and we pan down to see the outlines of various recognizable capital ships from the movies. Then a probe droid drifts by and we follow it to meet our characters. The only way to make this shot more reassuringly Star Wars would be to have the droid humming the cantina music and carrying a wookiee sidekick with a lightsaber.
Don’t freak out kids! You didn’t get an opening crawl, but this is still Star Wars!
We meet Prauf, a burly alien dude and his buddy Cal. They seem to be low-level scrap workers of some kind. We can tell right away that Cal is our protagonist because…
- He’s a fit, vaguely photogenic young adult named “Cal”.
- He’s the only human around in this vast landscape of droids and aliens, and everyone knows that only humans are special enough to be the protagonist.
- His face is on the goddamn box. Are you blind?
The foreman (or whatever) orders our duo to go to some dangerous place and fix some random thing so we can get our movement tutorials out of the way.
This game is an interesting blend. We’ve got platforming and traversal systems borrowed from Uncharted / Tomb Raider. We’ve got vaguely Soulsian combat focused around recognizing enemy movement animations and making efficient use of dodge-roll I-framesIf this isn’t your genre: This just means that you’re usually invulnerable to damage for a moment after you hit the dodge button and your character does a little sideways somersault. and parrying enemy attacks at just the right moment. We’ve got some mild leveling mechanics and collect-a-thon stuff borrowed from Every Game Made in the Last 10 Years. We’ve got an open-ish design where you can visit locations in the order of your choosing like in KOTORActually, that freedom is mostly an illusion. I didn’t realize how linear the game was until my second trip through the game.. There are some fairly involved environmental puzzles that again borrow from the Tomb Raider / Uncharted DNA. You can’t claim that any of these ingredients are new or novel, but I guess this particular mix is unique? It’s kind of interesting that we’ve never had a Jedi game with this sort of platforming. It seems like an obvious match.
Once we know how to run, jump, slide, climb, swing, and twerk, we reunite with PraufJust kidding about the twerking thing. It’s actually moonwalking.. Prauf manages to fall off of the platform. It’s then revealed that Cal is a force user when he uses his powers to save Prauf from certain death.
Afterward, they have a little conversation where they deal with this new revelation and how dangerous this is. This story takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. At this point in Star Wars, the Jedi are all but wiped out. According to the moviesAnd the first movie in particular., Darth Vader is personally hunting down and exterminating the Jedi. But this game takes place in the expanded universe of nu Star Wars, which means the writer is free to invent a rogues gallery of previously unmentioned Sith Lords so our protagonist has someone they can reasonably fight.
A Mild Perturbation in the Force
I honestly thought it sounded a little strange when Cal and Prauf spoke in hushed tones about what a dangerous thing it was for Cal to use his powers. Cal is clearly hiding out on this world because it’s remote. Ben Kenobi certainly never thought it was dangerous to use the force on TatooineWhen he scared away the Sand People and mind-tricked the stormtroopers. in A New Hope. I never got the impression that casual use of the Force would advertise your position to all Force users within several light years. Back in A New Hope, Vader couldn’t sense Kenobi until they were in the same hangar, and those dudes were really close back in the day.
But as it turns out, the Sith were able to sense Cal’s mild perturbation in the force and show up within an hour or so. You could argue that maybe the Sith were nearby, but then we have to wonder why these high-ranking Inquisitors would be hanging around the galactic dump like this or why Cal would choose to hide right under their noses. I’m not an astrophysicist or anything, but I’ve heard that galaxies are kinda big.
Yes, I realize I’m being an insufferable nitpicker here. This is nu Star Wars, and we must allow for a certain degree of leeway in the lore or none of these spinoff stories can happen. But fair or not, this is the kind of thing that runs through my mind in these scenes.
Remember that for me, Star Wars “ended” in 1983, and the canon remained hermetically sealed for the next 16 yearsI never read the books / comics.. I was a kid for a lot of those years, which makes the perceived gulf between Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace seem absolutely enormous. Even after all of this time, the prequel movies still feel like “new stuff”Despite the fact that Phantom Menace is closer to Return of the Jedi than we are to Phantom Menace. Time is weird.. Yes, to enjoy these expansion works I need to open up a little. But to enjoy this retrospective, you’ll need to cut me a little slack. I basically can’t help myself.
Anyway, the Inquisition shows up unexpectedly and arrests a bunch of scrappers. They know there’s a Jedi around here somewhere, and they threaten to kill everyone if the Jedi doesn’t come forward. During the standoff, we see Cal surreptitiously take out a lightsaber behind his back!
This was the first moment where the game genuinely surprised me. I honestly didn’t think that Cal would start the game with a lightsaber. It makes total sense that he would own one, since he used to be a Jedi. And we all knew from the previewsNot to mention the box art! that a lightsaber would be a major part of the combat in this game. But I didn’t expect it so soon because I’m really used to games pulling…
The Lightsaber Tease
In Dark Forces II, protagonist Kyle Katarn has to go through several levels before the game grants you the lightsaber. In the sequel Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi OutcastYes, the naming / numbering scheme of this franchise was pretty weird., the story starts with Kyle having given up on using the force and the player again has to go through the first chapter or so before they get to use the lightsaber again. In KOTOR – an RPG about being a Jedi – it takes several hours to get your lightsaberClear the tutorial ship, reach the planet Taris, do several quests in the main area of the city, then in the underworld, then clear a massive gang complex, win the swoop bike race, rescue Bastila, find a way to the undercity, get through the sewers, recruit Mission and rescue Zalbar, get through the sprawling crime fortress of Davik Kang, escape the planet, and make it through several extended cutscenes where you become a Jedi. I love KOTOR, but that game could be EXHAUSTING sometimes.. A significant number of modern AAA games are shorter than the pre-lightsaber parts of KOTOR.
KOTOR II doesn’t make you wait quite as long to get a lightsaber, but it’s still a decent chunk of the game. Likewise The Old Republic strings you along for many hours before it finally allows you to begin playing as the character class you chose at the start.
Not all Star Wars games do thisThe Force Unleashed goes to the other extreme and has you chopping up dudes by the roomful pretty much the moment the opening crawl ends., but the trope is so common that I’ve just come to expect it by now.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun idea that can make the lightsaber feel earned and special when done properly. It’s just that I’ve done this dance so many times before. I was honestly relieved to see we weren’t doing it again here.
Let’s let this trope rest for a bit.
The main villain here is a woman known as the Second Sister. She’s dressed in black and has a red lightsaber, a face-obscuring helmet, and a posh accent. I have to wonder: Is the posh accent the result of some sort of Imperial finishing school, or does the Empire only consider people with posh accents for high-ranking positions?
Second Sister kills Prauf to show that she means business, which goads Cal into drawing his weapon. They fight in a cutscene where Cal is completely outclassed. Also, an immense bruiser named Ninth Sister jumps in, making the fight even more hopelessly one-sided. During the fracas Cal winds up falling over a cliff and onto a transport train, and for some reason his foes don’t follow him.
I knew Prauf was our sacrificial tutorial buddy. I could tell he was destined to die like Trask and Jenkins before him. Some guys, you can tell just by looking at them. They have a lot of speaking lines, they’re really friendly, and they’re clearly irrelevant to the oncoming plot. There’s just no saving guys like that.
To show how effective the writer is: Even though I knew Prauf was doomed, I still really hated it when Second Sister ran him through. The earlier scenes managed to make him a likeable guy and hint that he’s got a history that precedes the opening credits and aspirations beyond following the protagonist around. He wasn’t complicated, but he felt genuine. Again, the writer isn’t doing anything spectacular, but they’re hitting all their marks and not making any mistakes. After sitting through countless video games that struggle with basic scenes and bungle their characters, it’s really a nice change of pace to simply enjoy a properly-constructed story.
 If this isn’t your genre: This just means that you’re usually invulnerable to damage for a moment after you hit the dodge button and your character does a little sideways somersault.
 Actually, that freedom is mostly an illusion. I didn’t realize how linear the game was until my second trip through the game.
 Just kidding about the twerking thing. It’s actually moonwalking.
 And the first movie in particular.
 When he scared away the Sand People and mind-tricked the stormtroopers.
 I never read the books / comics.
 Despite the fact that Phantom Menace is closer to Return of the Jedi than we are to Phantom Menace. Time is weird.
 Not to mention the box art!
 Yes, the naming / numbering scheme of this franchise was pretty weird.
 Clear the tutorial ship, reach the planet Taris, do several quests in the main area of the city, then in the underworld, then clear a massive gang complex, win the swoop bike race, rescue Bastila, find a way to the undercity, get through the sewers, recruit Mission and rescue Zalbar, get through the sprawling crime fortress of Davik Kang, escape the planet, and make it through several extended cutscenes where you become a Jedi. I love KOTOR, but that game could be EXHAUSTING sometimes.
 The Force Unleashed goes to the other extreme and has you chopping up dudes by the roomful pretty much the moment the opening crawl ends.
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