The evolution of Star Wars video games through the decades

Photo: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in-game screenshot.. Courtesy EA Press
Photo: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in-game screenshot.. Courtesy EA Press /

Star Wars video games have come a long way since 1982 when the first game based on The Empire Strikes Back was released on the Atari 2600. This game, which recreated the iconic battle on the ice planet of Hoth, was the first interactive experience of the Star Wars story, though it is, of course, representative of its time. Simple gameplay, poor graphics representing the technological capabilities of the time, and a mere re-creation of a small part of the story made this game and the games immediately following it, including a lightsaber battle game called Return of the Jedi: Jedi Arena, fun to play for Star Wars fans but not very revolutionary.

Better technology, better games

Of course, as video game technological continued to evolve in the years following, better games like the Super Star Wars Trilogy for the SNES, which re-created the storyline of the original trilogy and featured better graphics and gameplay, and the X-Wing/Tie Fighter game for PC that put you in the cockpit of one of the franchise’s iconic starfighter vessels, began to explore the possibilities of the medium for a unique approach to Star Wars storytelling.

Expanding the Star Wars story through video games

In 1996, LucasArts sought to use the video game medium to expand the already existing Star Wars story beyond the original trilogy. Shadows of the Empire was a third-person action game for the Nintendo 64 that tells a story that takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In the game, you play as a smuggler named Dash Rendar, who helps Luke Skywalker rescue Princess Leia from Prince Xizor, leader of the Black Sun criminal organization. What made this game revolutionary was the way it gave Star Wars fans an interactive way to experience a new story in the Star Wars universe. And it foreshadowed what, for many, is still the most iconic Star Wars video game of all time: Knights of the Old Republic.

The most iconic Star Wars video game

Released in 2003 and developed by BioWare, Knights of the Old Republic told a story of an epic battle between the Jedi Knights and the Sith taking place 4,000 years before the Galactic Empire. The gameplay tells the story of the aftermath of two Jedi Knights named Revan and Malak leading the young Republic to victory in a war against the Mandalorians. Revan and Malak, after disappearing to the Unknown Regions, return, having turned to the dark side of the Force, and attack the Republic. After Darth Revan is presumed dead, the goal of the game is to defeat Darth Malak and restore order to the galaxy. The game was a fun and emotional exploration of the struggle between the light and the dark that the Jedi face on a galaxy-wide scale.

The continued story gaming evolution

The popularity of the KOTOR demonstrated the potential to use video games to tell stories in the Star Wars universe in a unique way. KOTOR was followed by a sequel, Knights of the Old Republic II, which continued the story of the first game and further explored the light and dark sides of the Force and their impacts on the galaxy. In 2010, The Force Unleashed explored the idea of Darth Vader having an apprentice named Starkiller and told a story to bridge the prequel and original trilogies. While not as popular or well-received as KOTOR, The Force Unleashed and The Force Unleashed II further demonstrated the storytelling capabilities of video games for the Star Wars franchise.

A new canon, and a new approach

After Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, any previous stories told through games like Shadows of the Empire or KOTOR were officially relegated to non-canon status. But in 2019, Jedi: Fallen Order, an action-adventure game that takes place five years after Revenge of the Sith, was released. With impressive graphics and an original story about a young survivor of Order 66 named Cal Kestis, Jedi: Fallen Order is representative of the new in-canon multimedia approach to telling Star Wars stories. You play as Cal as you struggle to survive in a world in which the Inquisitors are hunting you and the Empire and its tyranny are growing. It’s a unique interactive experience that is loved by many Star Wars fans.

Early 2021 marked the announcement of Lucasfilm’s reorganized gaming division known as Lucasfilm Games, which will continue to evolve the use of video games to continue telling Star Wars stories. Already, the studio has been developing the first story-driven open-world Star Wars game with Ubisoft, and there are many more games to come. Perhaps we’ll even see a remake of Knights of the Old Republic sometime in the future.

The evolution of Star Wars video games also included fan-favorite games such as Star Wars: Battlefront and the recent Star Wars: Squadrons, as well as classic games such as Star Wars Episode I: Racer and Star Wars: Dark Forces. And, of course, the upcoming LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which will allow players to relive the entire Skywalker Saga in LEGO Star Wars style. There’s also a host of Star Wars games for mobile devices, such as Galaxy of Heroes and Force Arena. These games and many others demonstrate the continually evolving potential of Star Wars video games, which is sure to expand even more in the future.

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