Cal and Cere flee the underwater Sith base. Darth Vader is hunting them like a psycho killer in an 80s slasher movie, and there’s no way they can hope to defeat him. During the chase, Cere steps in and suddenly taps into some top-tier power that stops Vader in his tracks.
Then Cal realizes that she’s using THE DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE.
“Cere! Listen to me! You still have a choice!”, he pleads.
During this series I’ve noticed that my interpretation of the Dark Side is very different from everyone else’s, for reasons that are deeply personal.
The popular reading is that negative emotions are inherently evil. Attempting to kill someone while you’re angry is an evil action, even if the person in question is Galactic Hitler and you’re trying to stop them from murdering billions. As Yoda says in the Phantom Menace, “Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.” It’s all about your emotional state.
While I understand that the prequels are in fact Official Canon, I was in my early 30s when they came out and I thought they were rubbish, so I’ve never accepted any of Lucas’ re-interpretations of his original work. Midi-chlorians are nonsense, the Jedi being government agents with an official uniform is gross and absurd, and prequel Yoda was a warmongering dipshit. To me the Force is mysterious, the Jedi are secretive monks, and Yoda is wise and borderline pacifist. In particular, I think that Prequel Yoda’s assertion of Fear→Anger→Hate→Suffering is ridiculous. I don’t think you can put those emotional states in any particular causal order, and even if you could it wouldn’t be that order.
But more than all that, I’m driven to reject the Popular Interpretation of Anger=Evil because of basic physiology. Specifically, if anger is evil then I’m an underachieving supervillain.
Sorry, You’re Not Allowed to Feel Those Emotions
As I’ve hinted at in the past, I have anger issues. As I said in my post about why I can’t play Dark Souls:
Getting frustrated by blocked progress is pretty normal. What isn’t normal is getting a massive dose of adrenaline in response to mundane problems. It’s not the frustration that’s the problem, it’s the Hulk-sized dose of useless hormone neurotransmitters sloshing around in my bloodstream. That’s a real physiological thing that happens to your body, and you can’t zen your way through that shit. I’ve tried. You can’t shrug off the effects of adrenaline any more than you can shrug off the effects of alcohol. One way or another, biochemistry is going to have its way with you.
What I’ve learned over the years of coping with this problem is that you really can’t control your emotions. In fact I associate emotion policing as just the worst sort of anti-care.
“Stop crying! I really don’t need your constant weeping right now.”
“Have you tried not being sad all the time? Try smiling more!”
“Just snap out of it. You’re home from the war now so you need to calm down and act normal.”
If we accept the prequels, then the Jedi aren’t allowed to feel negative emotions. Oh, and they’re also galactic heavies we send into areas of violent conflict. This is why I’ve been throwing around the half-joking hashtag #TheJediHadItComing. This is such an obviously terrible idea that it’s weird they don’t have some Anakin-level meltdown every few years.
Whether you’re a Jedi or not, I don’t think you have a lot of control over what emotions you’re feeling. Maybe you have a bit of wiggle room to take the edge off with good support and self-care, but there will be days where you’re an emotional wreck and you can’t get off that rollercoaster no matter how much you want to. Instead, you need to work on controlling your behavior in response to those emotions.
For me the problem began around 1981 or so, when I was about 10 years old. I started exploding with frustration when I couldn’t do something I thought I should be able to do, and I’d turn into a tiny little rage monster.
Return of the Jedi came out in 1983. When I got to the final scene where Luke rejects the Dark Side, I didn’t see him rejecting anger itself, I interpreted him as not allowing his anger to control him. A lot of people saw him get pissed off at Vader and saw that as Dark Side behavior, but for me it was just a natural emotional reaction to having Space-Göring promise to hunt down your sister and turn her into a murderous space-Nazi. That’s a pretty reasonable thing to get upset about! For me his “rejection of the Dark Side” wasn’t him deciding he wasn’t angry anymore, it was him deciding to not allow that anger to make decisions for him.
Now, I’m sure people will want to quibble with this interpretation with various quotes from the movies. I’m not saying my interpretation is the only correct one, I’m just explaining why I saw the movie this way and why I find the “anger is evil” idea so intensely distasteful.
Anyway, back to Cere…
Cere Turns Evil For a Moment
This is why I just can’t get behind the idea that Cere is using the DARK SIDE of the force here. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with her motives. (She’s trying to defend children from a guy planning on torturing them.) There’s nothing wrong with her actions. (She’s trying to stop a malevolent enemy, and she’s not even trying to kill him!) There’s nothing wrong with the emotions she’s feeling. (Most reasonable people would agree that this is a very upsetting situation! Jedi aren’t supposed to be Vulcans, are they?) The only thing she’s doing “wrong” is that she’s using one of the forbidden powers on the Jedi hotbar. (Is she? She’s just sort of holding Vader in place?)
This moment has no stakes for me because I’m not worried that she’s about to turn evil. She’s certainly not doing anything immoral.
But for whatever reason, Cere realizes that she’s somehow doing wrong and lets go. And suddenly she’s weak again, thus reinforcing the idea that the Dark Side isn’t just more alluring, it’s demonstrably more powerful than the light. This also sells the notion that good and evil is a matter of style rather than intent.
This interpretation that anger=evil would also let Palpatine off the hook. I fully believe that Palpy could slaughter his way through the Younglings while humming showtunes. He’s the very embodiment of “Evil and Loving It”. If he dances through the Jedi temple with a grin on his face, waving a blue lightsaber through the kids or flinging them into the nearest infinite abyss with a dismissive flick of the wrist, would that mean he’s not using the Dark Side? He’s not angry. He’s not using one of those scary red lightsabers. He’s not frying people with electricity. If evil is based entirely on emotions and aesthetics then Dancing Palpatine must be killing the kids with the light side of the force, right?
Again, this doesn’t work for me. I realize anger=evil is a common interpretation of the Force, but I personally really hate it.
Anyway, our heroes blast a hole in the wall and the ocean rushes in. I can’t be sure, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Darth Vader didn’t drown in the resulting deluge. Our heroes swim to the surfaceI think we need to assume that Jedi are naturally immune to aerobullosis. and Merrin uses her powers to save them at the last second before Cal passes out.
Later Cal wakes up on the ship and everyone hugs and celebrates. Yay! We won!
So now it’s time to open up this holocron and get this list of names.
You know that annoying thing where a game will expect / allow you to get right to the threshold of the ending and then piss off for a dozen hours to mess around with collectibles? Isn’t that annoying?
Well that’s what we’re going to do…
The Collectible Trap
(For the record, you can’t actually go collectible hunting at this point in the game. The trip to the Sith base is a one-way tunnel that leads to the closing credits. I just thought this was a cheeky place in the retrospective to put this.)
I don’t know if you want to call the post-Ilum stuff “the second half of the game”, or “Act III”. It’s hard to say because your real-world time investment will vary greatly depending on how much time you spend rounding up collectibles. Also, the uneven distribution of story beats makes it sort of hard to nail things down in terms of what stage of the story we’re supposedly in.
My problem was that I really loved collecting lightsaber parts, so I was always interested in finding as many of those as possible. Sadly, you can’t tell what sort of collectable you’re going to get by looking at a chest.
I’d see a box in some hard-to-reach spot and spend a few minutes figuring out how to get it, because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a new bit of saber livery. But then I’d finally open the chest and discover it’s another stupid poncho color, or a new paint job for the ship, or a new paint job for BD-1.
Hang on Shamus! What poncho?
Yeah. See, Cal is SUPPOSED to wear a poncho. I love the idea of Cal draping something over himself as a sort of quasi-cape and I REALLY love that he’s not wearing brown “Jedi Robes”. My problem is that I think the poncho is an ugly shapeless bag that hides Cal’s form. This is really bad in a game with such a focus on parkour and acrobatic fighting. It’s like watching a dancer wearing a choir robe or an olympic gymnast performing with a burlap sack over their body. I’m here to see this person move in extraordinary ways, so let me see them move!
The poncho looks like a stiff tarp and it doesn’t really flutter in the breeze enough to sell the motion of all the platforming he’s doing. It doesn’t feel like a cape, it feels like he’s wearing a garbage bag. Bleh. Worse, the poncho colors are… well, tastes vary, but I wasn’t a fan. They cover the entire earthtone spectrum from infra-beige to ultra-taupe. That makes them appropriate for Star Wars in this time period, but it also makes them uninteresting to collect.
So I always selected the option for “no poncho”, which is why you don’t see one in my screenshots. So you can imagine how underwhelming it was to open a box and discover a new poncho color / material.
As you get through a metroidvania style game, you gain new tools to open things. Sometimes your obstacles aren’t literal doors. In some games these additional access powers let you shoot new projectilesLike Lara Croft being able to fire rope arrows and pull stuff down., or reach high places, or crawl through small spaces, or blow stuff up, or disable otherwise impassible turrets, or whatever. We can throw all of these kinds of tools under the broad heading of “can openers”. As you gain new can openers, you gain access to more parts of the world.
On your first visit to Zeffo you don’t have any of your big can openers, so you can’t reach most of the prizes. Then a bit later you unlock the ability to shove stuff with the force, which lets you push down weak walls. Then you gain the ability to pull stuff, and that lets you remove more obstacles. Gaining the ability to hack doors and forcefields removes another set of barriers, as does double-jumping.
So now the player has a choice: Do you want to go back to the planets every time you get a new can opener so you can grab the next batch of trinkets? Keep in mind that many of these planets are large one-way obstacle courses. You can’t just grab something and leave the way you came in. Once you enter, you’re committed to traversing most of the level before you can leave again. If you grab new collectibles every time you get a new can opener, then you’re going to run these mazes and fight these mooks many, many times.
Or you can go the other way and ignore all collectibles until you get the last can opener. The problem is that there isn’t a very large window between the time you obtain the last can opener and the time you get sucked into the endgame where it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pause the plot to go trinket-hunting. The only reasonable time to go prize-hunting is directly after Ilum, but before getting the holocron. If you go any sooner you’re short on can openersOr you’re missing your lightsaber.. Any later and the plot has entered the “time is of the essence” stage. You can’t keep playing after you beat the game to round up all the crap, which means you only have this narrow window in Act III. That works against the idea of collectible-hunting as being something you do casually to take a breather from the main story.
This is exacerbated by the way this game handles New Game+. In other games – like Batman – the New Game+ mode allows you to play through the game a second time, but with all of your can openers available from the start. This makes collectibles more fun, since you can grab them on your way through.
But in SWJFO the can openers are directly linked to story progression. It’s nice to have story and gameplay integrated like this, but when combined with the one-way obstacle course design, it feels like there’s never a good time to take a break and round up the shiny things.
None of this is helped by how underwhelming the collectibles are. I know all the popular games are doing it these days, but that doesn’t mean that doing it will make your game popular. I feel like SWJFO would have been stronger if the team had left out the collectibles. I like customizing my saber, but this design is awkward.
Or even better, get rid of the annoying one-way doors and embrace a more open map style.
The Player Sets the Pace
At any rate, these collectibles create a huge amount of variability in the pacing of the game. Some players will stop after Ilum and spend endless hours re-running all the obstacle courses to get the goodies, and other people will blast directly through to the end. After Ilum you’re either barely started or nearly there.
The post-Ilum part of SWJFO feels like an entirely different game from what came before. Check the story once you acquire your new saber:
- Dialog as Cal leaves Ilum and goes to Dathomir for the final time.
- Very brief hike to the Dathomir temple.
- Cutscene where Cal faces Jaro Tapal and makes peace with his ghosts.
- Cutscene where Cal makes friends with Merrin.
- Cutscene where Cal argues with Malicos.
- Boss fight against Malicos.
- Cutscene where Cal gets the Astrum.
- Cutscene where Cal returns to the Mantis and introduces Merrin to the crew.
- Warp back to Bogano.
- Cutscene where everyone discusses the Astrum and talks about opening the vault.
- DialogThe player has control of the camera and they could walk away if they REALLY wanted to. on the surface of Bogano where each crewmember says some words to Cal before he goes to open the vault.
- Gameplay: Very short hike to the vault.
- Cutscene where Cal opens the vault.
- Cutscene-ish linear walking section where Cal has a vision of the new order falling to the Empire.
- Cutscene where Cal gets the holocron and confronnts Trilla.
- Boss fight against Trilla.
- Cutscene where Trilla runs off with the holocron.
- Cutscene where Cal experiences Trilla’s fall through her eyes.
- Gameplay: Brief run back to ship, kill some cannon fodder troopers.
- Cutscene where Cal makes peace with Cere and she knights him.
- Cutscene where they infiltrate the Sith base.
- Gameplay: Very long fight through room after room of troopers.
- Cutscene with Trilla.
- Boss fight with Trilla.
- Cutscene with Vader.
- “Gameplay”: A brief linear run through Vader’s quicktime events.
- Cutscene where Merrin saves the Jedi.
- Cutscene where the Jedi finally open the holocron.
The first half of the game was dominated by puzzles, combat, and parkour. This last section was nearly all cutscenes and boss fights, with barely any regular combat, barely any parkour, and no puzzles whatsoever. I have the sneaking suspicion that maybe this is the result of cut content.
A Puzzling Lack of Puzzles
On Dathomir, it takes a few tries to get into the temple. But once we do, it’s just a short walk through a handful of back-to-back cutscenes to the Astrum. It seems very likely that this traffic jam of cutscenes was supposed to have a lengthy puzzle tomb / obstacle course in the middle of it. (Specifically, between making friends with Merrin and getting into a fight with Malicos.) Then when the budget got tight or the ship deadline got too close, they dropped the puzzles and platforming, which left no space between the cutscenes.
The same goes for the tomb on Bogano. It really is a bit odd that Cal uses the Astrium in the middle of the room, which opens the door, but the door doesn’t go anywhere. Instead he just has a vision and when it ends the holocron is floating in the middle of the room where the Astrium was. It really feels like he should have needed to travel deep into the tomb to recover the holocron.
I don’t mind that the latter part of the game doesn’t have puzzles, but it does feel really strange how different the two halves of the game are. Not just in terms of pacing, but in what kinds of gameplay dominate the experience.
Don’t get me wrong, this game isn’t lacking in content. I’m not saying the designer cut corners, I’m saying I think their original scope was perhaps too ambitious and they needed to scale down. If that’s the case, they did a pretty good job. You can’t see the seams in the form of plot holes, jarring cutscenes, or odd tonal shifts. It’s just that this game is really uneven in terms of cutscene balance and gameplay modes.
In the next entry we’re actually going to cover the ending. For real this time.
 I think we need to assume that Jedi are naturally immune to aerobullosis.
 Like Lara Croft being able to fire rope arrows and pull stuff down.
 Or you’re missing your lightsaber.
 The player has control of the camera and they could walk away if they REALLY wanted to.
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