Star Wars games always have this timid aspect to them, almost an instinct to preserve their history against the meddling of video games. You don’t get to schmooze in the space diners as Han Solo – you retread Doom corridors as the Dark Forces substitute, Kyle Katarn. If this was a cosplay situation, you’d reason that you’re not talldarkandhandsome enough to pull off Solo. But if so much of the appeal of the movies has been in relating to remarkably human-shaped aliens, then why are they withheld in the world of video games, where characters are usually exploited more readily than the one dancer in Jabba’s palace with a BMI lower than 50?
I think we’re treading close to prodding the entire fandom organism here and I’m going to keep my distance for now. But what I’m getting at is the industry’s curious disregard for the characters and plots of those original movies. Beyond frustration simulators like Super Star Wars there are really only spin-off adventure games and RPGs, storybook PC adventures and pod racers, chess and party sims. You’re usually playing in a ship, as a character you made, or as one of Darth Vader’s forgotten foster kids. Lego Star Wars has everything in it but in such a way that it’s silly enough not to impact the Star Wars impression.
What I mean is that none of the Star Wars games are “the” Star Wars game. Star Wars Battlefront comes close by being an upturned toy box of canonical bliss fit to test all your mash-up fantasies. But even Battlefront at some point stops being a Star Wars game in order to become more like an interactive version of what a fan-fiction junkie wants to see when he thinks about it. We experience all the items and scattered lore, the conglomerate of all the candy-coated action figures that come together in some nether regions of the fandom to become a singular entity called Star Wars, and that’s what gets made into a game. The original films, the core plots, remain elusive.
That untouchability may be why we never make a game based on The Empire Strikes Back, in the same way that we’ll make Dante’s Inferno into a game but not the Nativity. The three original films are like a holy text – though the characters can be removed and used to suit a moment’s fantasy, it’s always essentially sacrilegious to those monolithic originals. Playing as Han Solo in Battlefront is no more authentic than playing as him in the DDR dance off mini-game in Kinect Star Wars.
My point is that the value of a Star Wars game seems to be in its inauthenticity, if as for instance the go-to “best” Star Wars game is Knights of the Old Republic, one of the least tied-in to the originals. Any Star Wars game seems to be like a fat bridesmaid, designed to compare unfavorably to its competition, which always manages to sparkle in our memories in its luxurious nostalgia and bronze-plated lingerie.
The real question, for another day perhaps, is whether the original films are worthy of such cautionary protection, or if dodging the issue is actually the real reason we think they are.