I should note that this entry was written months before EA lost their exclusive rights to Star Wars video games. Oh yeah, and in case you didn’t hear: EA lost their exclusive rights to Star Wars video games. That’s an important thing to note.
At any rate, I imagine the pitch meeting for this game went something like this…
FADE IN: SPACE
Our view pans slowly from the vastness of space to a looming grey space station hanging over earth. It’s in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s smiling head. This is the DISNEY STAR, a moon-sized structure of immense economic power. We move in closer and see that enormous spaceships are coming and going from Mickey’s mouth. Moving closer still, we see these massive hauler ships are emblazoned with pictures of Luke Skywalker, Elsa of Arendelle, Buzz Lightyear, and Iron Man. As ships land, we can see their cargo doors are bent cartoonishly outward, bursting at the seams with money.
We pass through this cargo bay and come to a vast cavern with elevators zooming up and down, carrying personnel to all areas of the space station. The lifts have names on the sides like, PRINCESS DIVISION, PARKS AND RESORTS, PIXAR, and MARVEL. At the far wall, in a dark corner, is a tiny metal door. The word BASEMENT is painted onto the wall in multiple alien languages. The door snaps open to reveal a grimy disused metal staircase. We plunge down, down, down through countless levels. Faster and faster. The space gets darker and dingier as we descend. Eventually we reach the bottom-most door, which features a messy hand-written cardboard sign proclaiming “VIDEO GAME DIVISION”.
Inside, we find two low-ranking Disney Officers. One is an eager young writer, and the other is an older world-weary producer. (They both look the same for some inexplicable reason.)
So you’ve got a Star Wars video game for me?
Yes sir I do! I think this should be a story about a Jedi re-connecting with the force after leaving the Jedi world behind.
Ah yes, a Kyle Katarn style story. That’s a nice, safe way to go.
Also, he’s living as a scrapper on a remote world.
Sure, throw some Rey in there too. Spice things up.
He’s dealing with the death of his master, who was killed by the Empire.
He gets a new master, and she’s disconnected from the force too. She cut herself off from the force because one of her previous students turned evil.
So you want to take another swing at the ideas in Last Jedi? That’s… fine? I think? But do we really want both student and teacher to have commitment problems with the force?
The game will have us exploring ancient ruins from a long-gone force-sensitive race to learn the secrets of the force.
Also, we have to visit Kashyyk and liberate the Wookies!
I guess liberating those furry bastards is a tried and true Star Wars story. I do wonder why the Empire keeps trying to enslave them, but whatever. I guess that will make a good B plot.
Also, we’re going to have a fallen Jedi ruling over an indigenous tribe, kinda like Apocalypse Now.
Wow. That’s… Just to be clear, we’re talking about ONE game here, right? Because this sounds like a lot of-
(Interrupting) Also, we have a bit where the main character gets kidnapped and has to fight in a gladiatorial arena.
We did that in KOTOR, but okay. But when are we going to have time for this?
The whole adventure will be a hunt for a starmap that leads us to force-sensitive children!
A starmap that leads to Jedi? So we’re throwing Force Awakens in the stew, with a dash of the main plot from KOTOR again? I kinda feel like we have too many main plots already.
We’re also going to meet Saw Gerrera. He’ll be invaluable at first, but his methods will make him a troublesome ally.
That’s just the same exact character arc from Rogue One. Is there ANY part of this story that isn’t recycled?
At the end we have to enter a doomsday Sith base…
(Interrupts and begins counting titles on fingers) A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, KOTOR, KOTOR 2, Force Awakens…
(Overlapping) …and face down the student who turned to evil!
(Exasperated.) Sure. Throw some Revenge of the Sith in there. Anything else? You gonna put the Yuuzhan Vong War in there too? Why not just re-tell the entire Prequel Trilogy while we’re at it? We can put in a flashback that covers the entire history of The Old Republic.
(Getting very excited now.) Also, our final battle will be against DARTH VADER!
(Pause. Producer Guy looks unsure.)
Doesn’t this sound a little overstuffed?
It does, yes.
Overstuffed things are TIGHT!
Yes. That is tautologically true. I’m a writer, so… I know lots of big words.
Okay. But isn’t it going to be hard to reconcile so many different plots in one story?
Actually it’s going to be super easy, barely an inconvenience. I’ll just short-change all of the stories, end them without a sense of closure, shuffle them together, and rush through them without regard to pacing or emotional stakes.
(Doubtful.) I don’t know. I told you I wanted the best Star Wars story you could come up with, and you’ve got like, five games worth of plots here?
Oh, the BEST Star Wars? I’m sorry, I thought you said you wanted the MOST Star Wars.
Whatever. It’s a video game. I doubt anyone cares about the writing.
CUT TO: INT – SHAMUS YOUNG’S OFFICE – NIGHT
Shamus is playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen OrderEA™.
What the hell is going on with this story?
With apologies to Pitch Meeting.
I want to stress that I don’t think it’s a bad thing to reuse tropes and ideas from earlier works. I just think it’s a bad thing if you only use tropes and plots from earlier works. Give it a fresh spin. Do something different.
Personally, I’d have been glad to see one of these plot threads droppedPreferably the out-of-nowhere, perfunctory misadventure with Sorc Tormo. so the rest of them could have a little more breathing room and closure.
Meanwhile, at Electronic Arts…
Of course, this game wasn’t actually written by anyone aboard the DISNEY STAR. It was written by the team at Respawn Entertainment, on behalf of EA. EA doesn’t have their own Death Star, but if they did it would look a little different from Disney’s. For every cargo ship hauling in money, they’d have a garbage scow hauling away a load of shuttered studios, ruined IP, and dead Bothan interns.
To figure out what actually happened to this script, we need to go back.
A few weeks ago I shared a
unhinged rant detailed analysis about how EA (mis)managed project Ragtag, the now-canceled game that was supposed to focus on a bunch of smugglers instead of yet another story revolving around Luke & Friends. In that same project, the developers also had this exchange with the EA leadership:
[Project director Amy Hennig] also wasn’t used to working with a corporation like Electronic Arts. Despite being owned by electronics giant Sony, Naughty Dog had been able to operate autonomously, in large part because they were widely perceived as the corporation’s prestige video game studio. At EA, however, things were different. “She was giving these massive presentations on the story, themes,” said one person who worked on Ragtag. “EA executives are like, ‘FIFA Ultimate Team makes a billion dollars a year.’ Where’s your version of that?”
I want to punch somebody.
This is like a parody of stereotypical executive behavior. This is the kind of ridiculous strawman executive you’d see in a children’s movie, where some earnest engineer is trying to explain the new product they’re making and the executive doesn’t care because he’s literally uninterested in his own products. The fat pinstriped cigar-chomping executive just waves the nerd away with, “Who cares! Someone tell me how much money I made this week!”
If this report is to be believed, then there is literally nobody in management that cares about the tonal or thematic content of their products, not even when the product is a billion-dollar prestige license on loan from THE DISNEY CORPORATION.
The EA leadership aren’t gaming executives. They’re cartoon characters.
“Our understanding of Star Wars is lame and narrow, therefore your creative decisions must also be lame and narrow.” Also, FIFA makes a billion dollars a year, so why can’t you make a billion dollars a year with a different property in a different genre with a different business model for a different audience?”
I know the joke is that Hollywood producers are amoral and artistically bankrupt, but can you imagine Hollywood types refusing to greenlight Always Be My Maybe because it wasn’t going to make 2.5 billion dollars like Avengers Endgame? Even soulless Hollywood producers understand the basic concept of market segmentation.
I’ve made the case before that EA doesn’t understand the business that they’re in, but how can they possibly misunderstand it this badly? I could understand if the argument was something like, “Your projected budget is too big and we don’t think the game would turn a profit.” That would be a reasonable argument that someone could make if they had some vague grasp of sales trends in various genres and had some basic framework for making comparisons. But the EA leadership doesn’t have that, so they expect a Star Wars game to compete with FIFA.
Why hire successful industry veterans and then second-guess their creative decisions? Note how backwards this is. These executives – who clearly don’t understand games OR Star Wars – presumed to dictate creative decisions to industry veterans who had previously made very successful titlesAmy Hennig is a BEAST. She’s got Legacy of Kain, Jak and Daxter, AND Uncharted on her resume! Get out of her way, man.. At the same time, EA was apparently asleep at the wheel when Anthem was in need of oversight and leadership. They’re imposing creative decisions they’re unqualified to make, while shirking their duties as managers.
Note also that history has proven the EA leadership to be hilariously, grotesquely wrong. The public was indeed ready for a story that didn’t revolve around the Skywalker family. The Mandalorian came out in 2019, and – unlike the last few Star Wars movies – it was a massive hit with fans and critics alike. Project Ragtag could have tapped into this desire to see the REST of this rich universe. With talent like Hennig at the helm, it had a better-than-average chance of being a quality game. It could have been the launch of a new franchise for EA.
But no. Shitcan the project because it doesn’t have Chewbaca and slot machines. You dumb fucks.
EA is an all-clown circus, and I really wish someone would show Andrew “Lootbox” Wilson the door before he does any more damageReminder that “They’re making money” isn’t a proper defense. If you cancel a project that could have made a lot of money, then you’ve made a bad decision, even if you’re still in the green at the end of the year. Being a good leader means getting the most out of the assets available to you, not just avoiding red ink..
The Most Star Wars
This certainly explains why Jedi: Fallen Order feels like such a collage of established ideas. The writer wanted to make absolutely sure this project was sufficiently Star Wars-y for the hooting clowns in the EA boardroom.
The punchline to all of this is that I never cared about the Star Wars aspect of this game. In fact, I rolled my eyes during the 2019 E3 showcase, assuming this would be a lazy action game with a Star Wars paint job. It wasn’t until I heard about the gameplay that I decided to pick it up. The most important attribute of this game is something that’s invisible to the non-gaming executives at EA.
But now SWJFO is a hit. Maybe this means that EA will back off and give the team at Respawn entertainment the freedom to tell their own stories instead of creating mixtapes of Star Wars tropes. I don’t mind the mixtape, but I get the feeling this writer has a lot more they could be doing.
EDIT – Just before publication: Like I said at the top of the article, Disney ended their exclusivity deal and is allowing other publishers / studios to make Star Wards games. That’s far better than just hoping the EA stops being a creative impediment to their studios. It’s actually better than I could have hoped for six months ago, when I wrote the above paragraph.
In that spirit, next time I’m going to finally end this series by offering my own suggestions for what direction the sequels might take.
 Preferably the out-of-nowhere, perfunctory misadventure with Sorc Tormo.
 Amy Hennig is a BEAST. She’s got Legacy of Kain, Jak and Daxter, AND Uncharted on her resume! Get out of her way, man.
 Reminder that “They’re making money” isn’t a proper defense. If you cancel a project that could have made a lot of money, then you’ve made a bad decision, even if you’re still in the green at the end of the year. Being a good leader means getting the most out of the assets available to you, not just avoiding red ink.
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