The Secret of Star Wars

Illustration for article titled The Secret of emStar Wars/em
Total RecallTotal RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

There are plenty of theories as to why the original Star Wars trilogy has been so successful. Analysis of its "hero's journey", its appeal to young and old alike, its timeless tale of good vs evil.

I subscribe to a lesser-known theory. That it's been such a big hit because the original three films were so dirty.

A lot of science fiction material produced, whether it be on the silver screen, in comics or in video games, tends to come off looking clichéd. Indistinguishable from countless other examples in the genre. Cheap, flimsy and clean.


Designers and producers (at least when not hamstrung by tiny budgets) usually think this makes something look sleeker, more futuristic, but what it actually does it make it look fake. Artificial. Like the set or make-believe product it is. You never get the sense that it is a world in which people live, which they inherited from their forefathers, and which they'll pass on to their kids. Which limits your ability to really lose yourself in the universe.

The visual design of Star Wars, at least the original three films, did something else. The ships, built from random pieces of plastic model kits, looked like things that not only functioned, but had been doing so for years (to be fair, it was not the first to take this approach, as Thunderbirds did something similar). Its people sometimes looked like they needed a bath, or a haircut, or a hug. Places like Mos Eisley reminded us that science fiction doesn't always have to be about monstrous cities and space stations; it can be about shitty little pubs full of people who smuggle drugs for a living and who with a wrong move can get their arm cut off.

In short, it was a universe that looked like one that had actually existed for millennia, and we were only now just getting the chance to peek in through its windows. Because of this, it seemed like one you could really lose yourself in, as it felt more "real" as a result.

The latest trilogy, and almost everything based on them since, has forgotten that. Like an old episode of Star Trek, it often looks like an elaborate stage production of a boring space opera, instead of presenting us with a world we could imagine ourselves actually living in, flaws and all.


Sadly, it's a fate many Star Wars games based on both trilogies have also forgotten. Too many developers over the years have thought including the words "Jedi" and "Empire" were enough to ground their works in the look and feel of Star Wars, when really, they were doing nothing of the sort.

Above you'll find a few of the games that, like the original trilogy, got it right, not only dropping you into the middle of the Star Wars universe, but making you feel like you were really up to your eyeballs in it.


Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

X-Wing - As pedantic and full of incidental detail as a hardcore flight simulator, only this was in the Star Wars universe. The fact it coupled space combat with a power management system that bordered on strategic made it a blast to play, but what really made it stand out was that, from training missions to funerals, you felt like you were actually living the day-to-day of a Rebel pilot.

Tie Fighter - Maintaining the day-to-day that made X-Wing so special (only with roles reversed, as you're now with the Empire), Tie Fighter goes further by delivering a series of complex and mature campaign storylines that both look and feel like they actually took place on the periphery of the original film trilogy

Dark Forces - While later games in the Jedi Knight series were perhaps more enjoyable, since you had you fancy powers, Dark Forces was a guided tour of the filthy underbelly of the Star Wars universe. Literally, as you end up in a sewer system for a level. As a gun for hire - not a Jedi, and not a pilot - you get a rare look at life as a grunt on the Rebel side, seeing things from the original trilogy at ground level you often don't get to see, like marketplaces, commercial centres and the inside of Rebel bases and Star Destroyers.

Knights of the Old Republic - No Star Wars game has ever thrust you deeper into the fabric of the universe than this. Over tens of hours of RPG gameplay, you'll feel like you've seen half the galaxy, good and bad, clean and dirty, epic and mundane. Just like a real world should.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


The first movie is good. It's an enjoyable action sci-fi. The third movie is just okay. It has a lot of great elements, but also some pretty dodgy ones too. Like Ewoks. Sure it's a bit of a cliche, but considering how well the movie started, it has to be attributed to those guys as to why it's not as good as it could have been. The best, is Empire. It's not just the best Star Wars movie, it's just a really great movie. It has everything and it has it in spades.

In regards to games. I think the main problem that I see when there are shitty Star Wars games, is the focus on the Jedi or the lightsaber. Yeah, definitely the lightsaber.

Playing Battlefront, the most fun I had was playing as a trooper of some kind. Playing as a Jedi is okay, fun for a while, but they just offer a very shallow and repetitive experience.