First, we need to talk about Star Wars
What does Star Wars mean to you? On the surface, it’s a multi-billion dollar media franchise set in a galaxy far far away, simultaneously enthralling our eyeballs and igniting conflict in the minds of millions of people worldwide; it may be one of the most revered fictional phenomenon in modern history. But that’s what Star Wars is in the public consciousness, floating above us in some ethereal domain, an inflamed liturgy accessible via our smartphones and browser windows. To an individual, however, Star Wars can mean any number of things.
To me, Star Wars means John Williams’ soundtrack. It means goofy characters and cute, surprisingly sentient droids. It is a cure for loneliness; the terrifying vastness of space, of desert planets, of icy tundras in the Star Wars universe is alleviated with connectedness, expressed as “the Force”; an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together – Obi-wan Kenobi tells young Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. I read it as being a measure of connectedness between each other. I don’t mean how many followers you have on Instagram or Twitter, but by being connected to another human empathically; a measure of deep understanding. Hey, I guess Death Stranding is a riff on this idea.
Star Wars is also something unique, a Tolkien-esque science-fiction story. It’s built on gravitas, on giving huge meaning to our words and actions. It’s built on lore; an ancient, ambiguous and endless history that has a seemingly endless capacity. It inspires wonder and awe in binary sunsets and stars of death. It is reminiscent of old samurai films with its one on one lightsaber showdowns. It’s dusty, old and special. But that doesn’t mean it’s off-limits to change. In fact, it should welcome it.
But why does it carry such weight? I think because the stories are about people, about us. Characters in Star Wars are human, fallible. No-one is omnipotent or truly omniscient. There is ambiguity in everything – there is no certainty in what is right or wrong. Yes, there exists the path of light and the Dark Side, but we, emotional sacks of saline, cannot be labelled into a binary output. We are corruptible, and it is in these grey areas that Star Wars excels in storytelling. A famous line from Master Yoda states, “Fear leads to anger, leads to hate, leads to suffering.” That may be true, but something similar happens to the peacekeepers, the respected Jedi. Their respect led to power, which led to blindness, which led to their downfall. The Jedi are not the apex of good. It’s ironic that the reverence of the Jedi and their ways is paralleled by the toxic vitriol in the Star Wars fandom today, both leading to the fall of an order.
Fallen Order: A Star Wars Story
No human can make something perfect, as we ourselves are imperfect. That is why you should “Trust only in the Force”, says Cal Kestis’ mentor, having succumbed to the great betrayal of the Jedi Knights via the notorious “Order 66”. Cal is the protagonist of Respawn and EA’s latest video game, Jedi: Fallen Order. This is a third-person, action-adventure jaunt across the Star Wars universe; the first time we’ve had a single-player Star Wars since the Force Unleashed back on PS2/3 in 2008 (there was a sequel in 2010, and I’m also not really counting the single-player campaign in the most recent SW:Battlefront game).
Fallen Order is the product of our times. If you combined Uncharted, a dash of Bloodborne or perhaps Dark Souls and the latest Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider games, you would have a pretty good idea of how Fallen Order plays. It also reminds me of 2018’s God of War, especially with some large set-pieces, the semi-linear framework, excellent voice-work and an emotive storyline.
A note on bugs: there were several instances where I was frozen in place, waiting for an area to load. I also noticed lots of texture popping in, if I was sprinting too fast through an area. I fell through the world once. I didn’t experience any crashes or frame-rate issues. Nothing was severe enough that prevented me from playing. I can only assume EA/Respawn will patch these small bugs out.
I can safely say that I adored playing this game. I finished up the main story in about 18-20 hours, so it’s not a behemoth which I’m thankful for (yes, as an adult (and a parent!) I am happy that I can finish games in a reasonable amount of time – I’m looking at you <Insert any 40+ hour game here, my current backlog-beast is Days Gone>, staring at me pleadingly, gathering dust in my library)). I’m currently gathering up some collectables (probably another few hours, then maybe 25-30 to platinum on PS4 for those such inclined), which require you to return to 5 different planets in a metroidvania style, where enemies respawn, except now you feel a lot better about the lightsaber combat…
Of which, I should talk about: it’s brilliant, but you can be easily overwhelmed by a dodging Kashyyyk Slyyyg (yes), if you’re not careful. Heck, if there is more than one enemy attacking me at once I am instantly ten times more focused than in any other game. Even on normal (“Jedi Knight”) difficulty, every single combat encounter can be difficult. This is because you can’t just dodge and strike – the way to attack successfully is parrying, depleting your foe’s stamina bar and then murdering them satisfactorily with your lightsaber. The harder difficulties reduce the parry window to the point where you actually have to use the Force in real life to defeat enemies. For that matter, the Force powers in this game are not over-the-top. Don’t expect any force lightning; I used the few powers to get out of sticky situations before I can wade in with my laser sword, or to knock a particularly annoying enemy off a ledge, nulling a 5 minute fight. (Fyi, if you’re looking for a telekinetic itch to scratch, play Control).
Speaking of combat, there aren’t waves and waves of it. This isn’t a God of War 3 button mash deal, it’s focussed on exploration, backtracking and “tomb-raiding”. The times when combat presents itself requires you to get into a state of mind that to me, perfectly encapsulates what a Jedi is.
A note about accessibility at this point would be relevant. You can drop the difficulty settings at any point, with no effect on trophies, if you are struggling with a boss battle, where a difficulty spike is common. I commend Respawn on this, since I am pretty terrible at games and really just want to smash through the story at my own pace, without feeling that cold dread every time I spy an enemy. Difficulty settings are pretty much essential, in my opinion, to cater for all gamers. I recently played Control, an absolutely incredible, mind-bending game, which had no difficulty options. I managed to beat it (just), but man it was tense. It’s deliberate, of course, but I prefer having more control (:P) over how I play a game.
The story of Fallen Order is muted, subtle and it totally works. There is no save the galaxy quest here, but something smaller, without feeling insignificant. It’s really a story of Cal’s transformation, his path from having to hide his Force-sensitivity in an era set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, where terrifying “Inquisitors” are hunting down anyone related to the former Jedi order, to somewhere where he has matured into a Jedi Knight. The narrative fits very nicely into the Star Wars universe, as well as fitting into the Jedi ethos: Cal’s growth here emerges from his recognition of how failure is important to one’s path, and it shouldn’t be feared.
I loved the story. There are some scenes that are truly powerful, some sequences that kept a smile plastered on my face for minutes. Cal doesn’t have a Tony Stark-ian personality, he’s quiet, something for which us fans can project onto. He is afraid. And we all know that fear leads to the Dark Side. This story doesn’t leave you on a cliffhanger, it’s a contained, tight narrative that ends on a high.
More than anything, Fallen Order FEELS like Star Wars, whatever that means. To me, it’s little BD-1, Cal’s companion droid that chirps away in a hybrid dog/bird-song, and someone that if you hurt I will hunt you down and kick your ass. It’s the shivering satisfaction you feel when you ignite your lightsaber and hear that audio cue that is fully ingrained into my bones. It’s the wandering through dark, dripping caves on a snow planet, holding up your ‘saber to light your path. It’s the edge-of-your-seat lightsaber fights with the Inquisitors. It’s the hint, the twinkling remix of John Williams’ iconic music that adds to the weight of any scene. Fallen Order is not amazing game, it’s not changing the environment of video games, but it is a damn good Star Wars game. And it’s been a long, long time coming.