The Star Wars Expanded Universe has been given the chop, so it’s time to wave farewell to, well, a universe of beloved characters and storylines. We look back on some of our favourite video game entries in the sprawling LucasArts canon.
Disney, the new owner of LucasFilm and its games subsidiary LucasArts, has decided to wipe much of the Star Wars Expanded Universe slate. The six films to date remain, but almost everything else – the books, the comics, the toys and the games – are all officially non-canon.
This is heartbreaking news for fans, who will tell you that some of the best storytelling and world building took place outside George Lucas’s remit. However, the House of Mouse has spoken, and hopefully will draw on its own experience in protecting intellectual property – as well as that of its other major acquisition, Marvel – to build a new and beautiful extended canon.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate and reminisce over some of our favourite gaming entries in the now-collapsed universe.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 (KOTOR)
For many gamers, this is the quintessential Star Wars experience – or was, before the march of time took its inevitable toll on the ageing RPG series. The first Knights of the Old Republic was many Xbox gamers introduction to BioWare, and was so fondly loved both by developer and fans that it eventually inspired Mass Effect, one of the great franchise successes of the current era. Obsidian Entertainment’s sequel wasn’t as well-received, mainly because the team ran out of time and shipped it in the traditional “buggy as shit” stage, but KOTOR 2 was still an excellent game and devoted fan effort has returned some of its lost glory.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR)
Positioned as a continuation of KOTOR, and a KOTOR that never had to end, Star Wars: The Old Republic turned out to be, well, about as MMO-y as you can get. Nevertheless, it’s packed with interesting ideas and good content, as well as hefty slices of the old BioWare charm, and there’s definitely something to be said about joining the Jedi-Sith war, or whatever it’s called. It’s not to everybody’s tastes, of course, but those who love SWTOR? Man, they really love SWTOR. Definitely a success story, even if EA’s not rolling in as much phat loot as it expected. It looks like this one just might escape the canon cull; cross your fingers.
Star Wars Galaxies
Before there was SWTOR, there was Star Wars Galaxies, an MMO from Sony Online Entertainment that closed down to much sorrow in late 2011. It was a strange beast indeed, to the modern eye; an EverQuest-inspired MMO from the time before World of Warcraft set an apparently unbreakable paradigm. Players devoted whole in-game lifetimes to dancing, for example, and the social aspect of the game was filled to the brim with oddities – and more importantly, treasures. One of its more interesting features was its refusal to let you become a Jedi; you first had to master a certain number of other roles, and not only were these randomly selected for each character, the game wouldn’t tell you what they were till you had one under your belt. Amazing.
Star Wars: Jedi Knight
A third-person action series from Raven Software (now swallowed into Activision’s Call of Duty mill, alas), the Jedi Knight series spans five games and nine years. It also spans both sides of the war, as players take the role of Kyle Katarn, an Imperial soldier who eventually ends up as a Jedi instructor. Before Force Unleashed came along this was the benchmark for Star Wars action games, and remains a rare example of decent Star Wars multiplayer.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2
This one is a shining example of transmedia done right. Rather than blobbing a game down in the middle of the Expanded Universe and calling it a day, LucasArts launched a multimedia project spanning books, comics, reference materials and even a role-playing source, with a pair of video games at the heart of it. Significantly less modest than Jedi Knight, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed tells an important story occurring between Episodes Three and Four, starring an apprentice to none other than Darth Vader himself. It’s exactly as bombastic as you’d expect, but also a really solid set of games which arrived at a time when everything licensed was absolute shite.
Star Wars Battlefront
The reason I didn’t mention Star Wars Battlefront when discussing the excellent action stylings of Jedi Knight and The Force Unleashed is that in my mind Battlefront is an extension of the Battlefield series – which means it’s kind of come home now that DICE is in charge of the next one. Developed by a gaggle of studios but kicked off by the late, great Pandemic, Battlefront spawned two core entries and two portable spin-offs. Although both core games were playable in single-player, multiplayer was really where it was at, and despite being third-person – a genre many multiplayer fans tend to disdain – Battlefront is the touchstone for Star Wars with mates. End of story.
Lego Star Wars
I tell a lie. Battlefront is the final word in Star Wars with mates where you shoot them in the face; Lego Star Wars is the best Star Wars with mates for sitting on the couch. Some of the best of TT Games’ lauded Lego games, the five or so Lego Star Wars games are the epitome of good, clean, co-op fun – family-friendly games you can settle down to with the kids, but which will bring a smile or a belly laugh when you’re powering through with your drinking buddies. They probably didn’t bring a hell of a lot of new content to the Expanded Universe, as I’m pretty sure nobody ever pretended Lego was canon, but by god are we loathe to leave them off any list with “Star Wars” and “best” in the title, you know?
Star Wars: X-Wing
There’s been a heck of a lot of third-person action adventure so far, but the Star Wars: X-Wing series puts paid to all that. Four games over six years brought us as close as we thought we’d ever get to doing the trench run with Luke and R2-D2, and it’s because of games like X-Wing and its contemporaries that the space genre is exploding again today. EVE: Valkyrie in particular owes a nod to this series, as very few games had ever done dogfighting as well as X-Wing did. Star Citizen’s audience grew up here.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
A few years later, we got Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, a more arcade-style take on Star Wars dogfighting for Nintendo consoles. The fanbase of this one tends to be slightly (a console generation or so) younger, and less interested in the old Wing Commander style intricacies – but put aside your snobbery for a moment and you’ll discover a hell of a lot of fun to be head.
Star Wars: Empire at War
Every time Petroglyph Games comes up in video games news we all go “who? Oh, yeah! The Star Wars: Empire at War guys”, and pay keen attention to whatever it does. I feel fairly confident saying this is the only decent strategy game in the Star Wars catalogue, and its setting – during the construction of the Death Star – makes it particularly interesting. As is practically the law whenever Star Wars gives you a choice in the matter, the Dark Side is well more interesting, with a campaign starring Darth Vader on the hunt for Princess Leia.
Star Wars: Rebel Assault and Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2: The Hidden Empire
No, look, I know: FMV games are dreadful and atrocious and you have no idea what this is doing here. But ask gamers over a certain age about old Star Wars games and this pair always comes up, normally accompanied by a pained expression and welling nostalgia. They’re dreadful, yes, but they’re dreadful in a way that inspires a kind of fondness.
There are so many Star Wars games that it’s not even funny. We’ve no doubt missed your favourites, so let us know what and why in the comments. If you have memories of any truly dire Star Wars games, we’d love to hear about those, too.