One of the most interesting periods in the story of Star Wars is the 19 years between the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope. That’s the section of time when Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa grew up on their respective planets, while the Empire consolidated its power and built the Death Star. The spookiest and most interesting story from that period, though, is the one about how Darth Vader scoured the galaxy after the formation of the Empire, hunting down and exterminating the last of the Jedi.
We haven’t seen much of what Darth Vader was up to in the years after he turned to the Dark Side. There’s a comic series about him that covers a part of that era, but there are still a lot of gaps about what happened to various Jedi in the Dark Times before what’s depicted in the original movie trilogy. But we’ll soon get a closer look at that period, thanks to one story directly related to Vader’s campaign to eliminate his former friends and comrades: Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order.
Not a lot is known about Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars game, but the first trailer gives the gist of things. It follows a Jedi Padawan named Cal Kestis, who managed to escape Order 66–the order from the Emperor to his clone soldiers to execute the Jedi–and is now living in hiding. Cal uses his Force powers one day to save someone after an accident, and that exposes him; it looks like the rest of the game is about Cal becoming a fugitive as the Empire tries to hunt him down.
Undoubtedly, Jedi Fallen Order will expand on the greater Star Wars story while focusing on the coolness of the moment-to-moment power of being a Jedi Knight. Surely, Cal will send storm troopers flying, lock lightsabers (or maybe vibroblades) with the Empire’s spooky Force-wielders, and maybe move some impossibly huge stuff with his mind.
It actually all sounds like another great Star Wars game about a Jedi and Darth Vader’s campaign to destroy them, which took place during the same period in Star Wars lore and greatly expanded on its story: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Though it was released 11 years ago, Lucasarts’ title is available on PC and through backward compatibility on Xbox One and Xbox One X. It remains one of the better realizations of Star Wars as a video game concept–and it told one of the Expanded Universe’s best tales, in terms of bridging the gap between the prequel films and the original trilogy, and in fleshing out the enigmatic Darth Vader.
The Force Unleashed provides a look at what Darth Vader could have been like as a father.
The Force Unleashed dealt with Vader’s campaign against the surviving Jedi, but from a different viewpoint: that of Vader’s secret apprentice, codenamed Starkiller. The game fleshes out an idea that comes up in The Empire Strikes Back, and which got strengthened in Revenge of the Sith: Vader actually hates Emperor Palpatine for what Vader has become. His falling to the Dark Side and siding with Palpatine cost him Padme and all his friends, plus his legs and the ability to breathe properly. Vader is a true believer in the Empire’s fascism as a means to peace, but he also wants to kill and overthrow the Emperor, as is the Sith way. Vader has secretly been training Starkiller to aid him with that goal.
Most of the game is just about getting more and more cool powers for Starkiller, who can pick up and throw people, zap them with Force lightning, throw his lightsaber and impale them on it, and a lot more. You defeat huge enemies like AT-ST walkers and rancors, slashing them apart with your lightsaber or using the Force to hurl huge objects at them at ridiculous speeds. Overall, no game has quite gotten at the phenomenal power we all like to imagine the Jedi wield (even if it’s a bit over the top) like The Force Unleashed has.
But it’s the story in The Force Unleashed that really shines. It does a lot to develop Vader, and to a lesser degree, Palpatine, with some great twists. We see Vader at his most intensely evil as he wields power in his abusive relationship with Starkiller, and the game provides a look at what Vader could have been like as a father. That’s something the movies only ever showed briefly at the end of Return of the Jedi, and then only in the moment of Vader’s redemption. Though he’s an adoptive father to Starkiller, Vader is also, basically, his slave master.
The battle between the Emperor and Vader doesn’t go as planned, though, when the Emperor finds out about Starkiller. Vader kills his apprentice to show his loyalty, but it’s a fakeout–Starkiller is secretly saved, and Vader gives him a new mission to gather up the Emperor’s strongest enemies and create an insurrection. The plan is to distract the Emperor with a rebellion (!) so Vader and Starkiller can surprise him and take him down.
In true Star Wars fashion, though, the conflict between good and evil in the formerly evil Starkiller starts to rage, thanks largely to the friends he’s made along the way. While Starkiller is struggling with whether to stay true to Vader or to his new allies, he finally gathers all the rebels together in one place, and The Force Unleashed pulls the rug out again. It turns out, Vader was never trying to use Starkiller to take down the Emperor. This was actually all an elaborate plan created by Palpatine himself, to use Starkiller to gather up all the dissidents into one place, so the Emperor could destroy them with a single blow.
Yup, in a paranoid, overly complex bid to destroy all his enemies, the Emperor accidentally creates the Rebel Alliance. The Force Unleashed recontextualizes the entire Star Wars original trilogy in a way that expands on the character of Palpatine as established in the prequel movies, mirroring the Emperor’s rise to power in the prequels with a move that results in his downfall. It takes Luke Skywalker’s line to Palpatine from Return of the Jedi–“Your overconfidence is your weakness”–and turns it into the game’s big twist. Meanwhile, it expands on Vader and Palpatine’s relationship, hinting at its turmoil while staying true to both characters. And it gets at just how evil Darth Vader really could be.
The Force Unleashed had its problems–its age definitely shows, it’s not particularly intuitive thanks to weaknesses with systems like locking onto enemies, and a lot of the story hinges on a love story between Starkiller and his pilot, Juno Eclipse, which does not get nearly enough development–but as a Star Wars video game, it tread a lot of new, interesting ground back in 2007. It’s a bummer that a supremely cool explanation for how the Rebel Alliance came to be is no longer a part of the official Star Wars story, but Jedi Fallen Order has the same chance to expand on what we know about the Star Wars films in the same interesting way. We can see more of the galaxy, learn more about what it means to be a Jedi (or not), and most importantly, send more stormtroopers flying into the vacuum of space, using more Force powers. Here’s hoping Respawn draws some inspiration from one of Star Wars’ best gaming outings.