Feature: The Jedi approach to blanket bank holidays

By Neil Merrett

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast On GameCube – released 2002, Activision

Sunday – April 20, 2014… way too late to still be in bed….

What is the best thing about Star Wars? You could probably ask a thousand individuals with some knowledge of the ever expanding number of movies and they would very likely all pick something different.  Not everyone will be a fan of Jabba the Hutt’s approach to rehabilitating spunky captive princesses after all.

But if you had to pick a single defining moment from the series, what would it be?

It is something that for over three decades has seen game companies ranging from JVC to LucasArts and EA all attempting to crack the profitable longing for a classic space experience.  This has led to a slew of Star Wars racing games, beat-em-ups, space shooters, strategy games, various space shooters, online multiplayer worlds and motion controlled dance-offs.

In a Galaxy Far Far Away, where there is passion and a will, there is almost always a cash grab.

Yet as with the film series, Star Wars games have had dark times as much as light.  The expanded universe of George Lucas’ galaxy lives on through emulators and the Super Nintendo, as well as copies of Knights of the Old Republic on X-Box.

As new generations grow up with Star Wars and the likely never ending array of new characters, locations and merchandise, gamers will continue to want and likely go from one side of the virtual galaxy to the other looking for that true interactive Star Wars experience.

Whether it’s Pod Racing, lightsaber battles, pulling down entire Star Destroyers out of the sky using the force and a Wii-mote, or setting up your own backwater space pub, Star Wars games have developed as the most lucrative example of fan service, usually in a series of underwhelming levels or mini-games.

I spent years wanting the true Jedi experience.

In fact, I had found it years earlier in the second hand gaming section of one of the last remaining outposts of the once mighty trade federation known as Our Price.

As an experience, going through Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast, was more than worth the 15 quid outlay. Between its mix of frenetic lightsaber combat, corridor shoot outs with Storm Troopers and exploration, it pulled the neat trick of introducing you to the world as an all too mortal mercenary who eventually transforms into an all powerful potentially noble/murderous Jedi knight.

After several missions of claustrophobic pitched battles against armies of stormtroopers and beasties in various spacey settings, the game hands you a lightsaber and force powers, switching genres to become a chaotic, leaping, slicing action adventure.

Based on your earlier limitations as a man with a gun, the player suddenly is given a real sense of power and purpose as a Jedi, even if the force is ultimately used just to push Stormtroopers of cliffs or choke smugglers to death in the air.

There is much to marvel at in playing through the first time with its travels to new and old locations, some beautifully realised like the iconic Cloud City, others being various grey hall ways.  The empire is nothing but consistent in terms of its design and decoration preferences.

Yet, what really stuck years later was a strange almost Zen mission in a Jedi temple where you battle no enemies.  Your mission instead is just to locate your character’s lost lightsaber and Jedi powers in a peaceful isolated temple.

In between the game’s chaotic switch from a fast paced corridor shooter to an intense third person action game, this quiet little level of almost contemplative puzzle solving always felt strangely evocative and mysterious, aided in large part by John Williams’ ‘force theme’ score.

After eventually completing the game, I wouldn’t return for another nine years or so, until a hungover bed-bound Easter where I felt a strange pull to get to the Jedi Temple again.  This was not to go through the whole of Jedi Outcast once more, but just to experience the odd sensation.

Playing through the dated, if occasionally charming shooting stages, the hours spent trying to get to the temple for those twenty minutes in the hope of something to savour.

I was a pilgrimage playthrough to reach the quiet serenity of the Jedi temple mission, solely for less than an hour learning the most pedestrian uses of the force in order to move about some tiles.

With time and patience, I was back again with the music and tiles, returning to the scene of something much loved in a galaxy far far away, with a sense of a person I sued to be.

As is the danger of returning to the past, things were not quite as remembered.

But for a brief moment, as I pushed tiles around a mostly poorly rendered level, I was able to appreciate the sense of wonder felt during those many lost hours in Star Wars.

It isn’t just the laser swords that people loved about George Lucas’ original creation, but an entire series of worlds with their own sounds, sights and cultures to lose oneself in during uncertain times.

And that is probably the purest Star Wars experience there is, at least until the Oculus Rift C3P0 simulation comes out.

Featured image is a screenshot from Raven Software’s 2002 Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast game. Used without permission, please contact squareblind (at) email (dot) com if you are the copyright holder and wish this image to be removed.


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