Star Wars is what happens when you take dungeons ‘n dragons and give it a sci-fi makeover. Jokes aside, Star Wars is still a pop culture phenomenon and one that looks like it’ll never ever be out of fashion. It was a juggernaut when it debuted in 1978, each sequel helped create a legion of fans and even during the darker years set between the end of Return of the Jedi and the new prequel trilogy, that flame burned bright.
The success of Star Wars doesn’t just come from its cinematic source material though. It’s the canny positioning of this franchise and its ability to evolve into other forms of media that have helped it emerge as a pop culture phenomenon. You look at the video game side of the equation, and this was a brand that was a recipe for success when handled correctly.
Just think of the classics that you played in your younger years. The SNES had the Super Star Wars games, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is still a brilliant use of the Quake 3 arena engine and we’re still waiting for that Republic Commando sequel that will allow us to get revenge for Sev. These days, it’s a different story entirely, thanks to EA’s mishandling of the franchise.
There used to be a time when Star Wars games were damn good, and in a few rare cases, actually better than their source material. The Force Unleashed is one such example, one of the last big budget games of an era before Disney took over and a showcase for what passion, cutting edge technology and actual heart could achieve. It’s also the only game within that sub-series, and any talk of their being a sequel more half-arsed than the remains of a fella who was sawed in half vertically, are clearly rubbish and I refuse to believe that such a game even exists.
Back to the original though. What a game. While its core gameplay is typical of its era (quick-time events for every boss fight that robs you of actually watching the action unfold on the screen!), it’s still a remarkable experience for its time.This wasn’t just another Star Wars game, this was the start of a new chapter within the franchise, one that had actual links to the source material and was relevant to the canon long before the expanded universe was given a Starkiller Base scrubbing after Disney took over.
That gave The Force Unleashed some actual weight and importance in the grand scheme of Star Wars, a coveted spot on the shelf with the most important storylines of the series. You know what really helped sell the secret history of the Rebellion though? A story that actually gave a damn. Brisk and fresh, The Force Unleashed was Galen Starkiller’s tale. It was his origin, his purpose in life and his final battle, a done in one narrative that was designed to create a new icon.
Thanks to Samuel Witwer’s performance, you felt for Galen. You empathised with him, and you connected with a rogue agent of the Force whose life was comprised of danger, mystery and betrayal. With actors such as Nathalie Cox, Cully Frederickson and David Collins adding their own talents to the ensemble cast, The Force Unleashed felt like a small yet ambitious slice of Star Wars. A spin-off before Rogue One and Han Solo’s origin story, this was the benchmark for taking a familiar story and giving it a new spin.
The Force Unelashed was also a technical tour de force when it was released. If you ever wanted to find out what would happen if Kratos became Force-sensitive, then this was the game to answer your very weird question, you odd fellow you. You could choke Stormtropers en masse as if you were at an autoerotic asphyxiation convention, twirl your lightsaber with a flourish that would make Jedi masters jealous and zap opponents with that trademark Force Lightning that threatened to corrupt you further.
And then there’s that scene, where Starkiller’s use of the Force mirrors what Yoda would say later to Luke Skywalker: Size matters not.
I’ve been replaying The Force Unleashed on Xbox One lately thanks to a little of the ol’ backwards compatibility, and overall this brave entry at rewriting Star Wars lore still holds up pretty well. It’s fundamentally solid, engaging and fun. It’s also proof that for a brief time in 2008 before everything went wrong for the license, the Force was indeed strong with video games.
Last Updated: January 29, 2019