Star Wars has been a fixture of video games for decades, and spanned almost every possible genre and platform you could reasonably think of. There are certain ones that have resonated with audiences over time, like the current Jedi games from Respawn Entertainment and the Knights of the Old Republic series from BioWare and Obsidian.
Among that pedigree of well-liked titles is the short-lived Force Unleashed games. Its first installment is now 15 years old, and its big selling point was right there in the title. Far from the first game in the franchise to let players wield the Force, its novelty came from giving players the chance to use it at what was then its fullest, most violent potential with telekinetic blasts, mind control, and just straight up cooking dudes with Force lightning. Narratively, its aim was something a bit more grander as it tried to tie the Prequel and Original trilogies together through an original story and brand new character via Starkiller, who Vader kidnapped as a child and groomed int becoming o his secret apprentice to hunt down Jedi survivors of Order 66.
For a franchise with a number of characters who feel like someone’s playing favorites for specifically them (sometimes to said character’s detriment), Starkiller is the most OC to ever OC in all of Star Wars. Over the course of the original game, he ends up brushing shoulders with a number of Expanded Universe and mainline characters, helps kickstart the Rebel Alliance, and manages to survive facing off against both Vader and Palpatine despite both men being the best swordfighters of their time. Among his supporting cast are a love interest who serves as the pilot of his ship, and a droid who takes on the form of previous lightsaber users to train his master in the ways of combat.
It’s all very silly in the way that this franchise can often be, even now, but it was also just as endearing. At the time, Lucasfilm wanted to really sell the idea that Force Unleashed was an important piece of Star Wars media on par with the films, hence its opening crawl and transition wipes pulled right from the films. But it also wanted to be its own thing, which it did by putting a spin on the Force’s capabilities. The prologue set on Kashyyyk had Vader slaughter his way through so many Wookies like they’re basically nothing as the Imperial March plays. Starkiller could blast enemies to the other side of the arena, catch TIE fighters mid-flight, and even bring down a Star Destroyer, the latter of which was a selling point in its own right. As a 14 going on 15-year-old back then, this was the perfect kind of power fantasy game: lightsabers, like all swords, are awesome, and using them in tandem with telekinesis and lightning to slice up monstrs and woefully underprepared soldiers was the coolest thing ever.
The original Force Unleashed was just a bestseller at the time, and spawned a sequel in 2010 that wasn’t quite as well-liked as its predecessor. Even with that, and after the games were subsequently declared non-canon, both titles made an important mark on Star Wars fans. For many, the Force Unleashed games became a semi-definitive text for how they viewed the franchise. If the Prequel trilogy made the Jedi into superheroes with their backflips and lightsaber twirls, Starkiller was the newcomer billed as big game changer who a publisher would build an entire event miniseries around before he gets a solid run of solo books of fluctuating quality. Still, fans love themselves some Starkiller, and have hoped he’ll make his way to the official canon once again in some form or another. (Many put their hopes on Marrok, a recent Inquisitor-looking character on Star Wars Ahsoka, being a new version of Starkiller, which...didn’t pan out.)
For the larger Star Wars franchise, it wouldn’t be wrong to say Lucasfilm paring down the Force’s capabilities was partially in response to Unleashed and utterly broken characters like Starkiller. In general, you can see how the two games have informed the franchise going forward: Respawn’s Jedi games have a similar commitment to feeling as Star Wars as possible, pretty great moments of power fantasy, while also being considerably better at when and how it uses pre-existing characters. And without the games, Starkiller’s voice actor Sam Witwer probably wouldn’t have gone on to voice Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Rebels.
The Force Unleashed is utterly ridiculous, but that gives it a certain charm that’s clearly let it endure over the past decade and a half. It’s the type of game that can’t really get made anymore—video games based on important brands like Star Wars either have to adhere to larger canon or have their own strong enough spin on things to stand on their own. But sometimes, you just need a game like Force Unleashed to exist, if only because the galaxy’s more fun when it breaks its own rules in a gleefully stupid manner like those games did.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is playable on the Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation Plus’ Premium tier, and Xbox Series X|S via backwards compatibility. At time of writing, The Force Unleashed II is not on the Switch, but it is on the two aforementioned platforms.
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