Yesterday’s news that Disney has decided to shutter LucasArts, the videogame company overseen by Lucasfilm that’s produced nearly three decades worth of Star Wars and Indiana Jones games, not to mention the Monkey Island saga, gave us a full-blown nostalgia attack. Disney seems so determined to put all their effort into the production of Episode VII that they’re shutting down much of non-Episode VII Star Wars content, including the Clone Wars TV series and games like Star Wars 1313 that were in the pipeline for future release. Eric Geller, one Star Wars fan who helps run TheForce.Net speaks for many of us by saying, “They seem to think they need a dearth of other SW content to get us excited for the sequels. Have they met us?”
For kids growing up in the ‘90s, LucasArts’ games were the only way to extend the experience of Star Wars beyond endlessly replaying VHS copies of the Original Trilogy. At least, until we were old enough to start reading the Expanded Universe novels. Whether geared for the computer, NES, or N64, these games helped us fall even deeper in love with that Galaxy Far, Far Away. The batting average of these Star Wars games was really formidable, with the X-Wing and Dark Forces series, in particular, being consistently strong. Admittedly, in recent years, the quality of LucasArts’ output has waned. For all the hype, 2008’s The Force Unleashed doesn’t offer gameplay mechanics or storytelling anywhere near as satisfying as that found in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, released six years earlier. But we still played.
So, to honor LucasArts’ formidable legacy, movies editor Matt Patches, staff writer Michael Arbeiter, and myself, geek writer Christian Blauvelt, put together our picks for the 10 Best Star Wars Games Ever. Oh yes, and the 5 Worst — nobody's perfect!
10. Episode I—Racer (1999)
This is the Rodney Dangerfield of Star Wars games. A lot of fans think it’s terrible without even having played it. But Racer transforms the best sequence in The Phantom Menace into kinetic art, taking you to wholly alien environments like the sulfuric planet Malastare, ocean world Aquilaris, and airless vacuum planet Oovo IV. No, it doesn’t have a story or any depth to its characters—though you do get to play as all the weird alien podracers you glimpse during the Boonta Eve Classic in the movie—but Racer isn’t trying to be “cinematic” like so many games today (games, which, as a result, are often too easy when it comes to actual gameplay). Racer is a souped-up arcade actioner. It capitalizes on your reflexes and muscle memory rather than your higher cognitive functions. But that also means that, like many of the arcade classics, it’s a lot more difficult, and thus a lot more replayable than games with supposedly loftier ambitions. And it has Watto saying stuff like “Ohhhh….You want buy pit droid, eh?” How could you not love that? — Christian Blauvelt
9. Shadows of the Empire (1996)
Lucasfilm’s idea of creating a multimedia “interquel,” a story that explores what Luke and Leia did in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, took various forms: a novel written by Steve Perry that focused primarily on the movie characters, a graphic-novel tie-in, and a Nintendo 64 game that cut out Luke and Leia entirely to focus on gun-for-hire Dash Rendar, the scruffiest nerfherder in the galaxy not named Han Solo. As Dash, you follow the breadcrumbs from planet to planet to find out where Solo, frozen in carbonite, has been taken, so you can attempt a rescue. Along the way, you encounter droid bounty hunter IG-88, Boba Fett, and a giant dianoga—the tentacle garbage compactor creature from A New Hope! — Christian Blauvelt
8. Yoda Stories (1997)
You land in the murky waters of Dagobah, your X-Wing pixilated and your R2 unit complete with incomprehensible speech bubbles. And there, you will find your mission of the day: Where will Master Yoda send you this time — Tatooine, Hoth, Endor? Who will you be charged with saving — Han Solo, Princess Leia, C3P0? The Game Boy and PC adventure game sent the player (as Luke) off on multifaceted quests, completing small tasks to aid in the ultimate conquest against baddies like Jabba the Hutt, the Rancor, swarms of Jawas, and even Darth Vader. Combining the joys of platform games and clever puzzles with Star Wars fandom makes Yoda Stories among the best of LucasArts’ contributions. —Michael Arbeiter
7. Dark Forces (1995)
LucasArts did an amazing job creating new characters and designs for their games, and Dark Forces became more than a Doom knock-off thanks to the inclusion of mercenary Kyle Katarn and the revelation of the "Dark Troopers." For a mid-90s, first-person shooter, Dark Forces had unprecedented atmosphere and an array of recognizable weapons finally put in the hands of Star Wars fans. Being able to wield a thermal detonator — only briefly seen in the first trilogy — brought a new dimension to the world we already loved. — Matt Patches
6. Battlefront II (2006)
Upgrading the skirmish style of the original Battlefront, the sequel opened up the format for larger missions, saga-spanning story arcs, space combat, and the ability to play as a Jedi. Sure, putting us in the third-person perspective of a Stormtrooper or Rebel gunman was fun, but dropping Mace Windu in the middle of a battle to slice up battalions of Droidekas and pesky Geonosians was a dream come true. Being able to run over Windu with a Trade Federation tank and send him flying off a cliff bumped Battlefront II up to "classic" territory. And the cherry on top: we loved John Williams' cue "Battle of Heroes" in Star Wars: Episode III, but when it backed up our long nights wiping out invading forces during Battlefront II's many campaigns, it was empowering. — Matt Patches
5. Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Compared to Jedi Outcast released the year before, the actual gameplay of KOTOR isn’t great. You have no control over lightsaber combat — moves are actually determined by virtual “dice throws.” But that’s pretty much the norm in role-playing games. What you do get is a story set in a wholly unexplored period of Star Wars history and possibly the most character-driven LucasArts game ever. 3,900 years before the events of the movies, the Republic is at war with the Sith. Or rather, two Jedi, who’ve turned to the Dark Side and are calling themselves Darth Revan and Darth Malak. You play an anonymous Republic soldier with extraordinary abilities that are only slowly discovered throughout the course of the game as you battle back the darkness. As an RPG, KOTOR allows you to make key moral choices throughout the story that determine the direction of the plot…and your character’s ultimate fate, leading up to the most shocking Star Wars reveal since “I am your father.” Also, you will never learn more about the internal politics of Wookiee culture. — Christian Blauvelt
NEXT: What's the best Star Wars game ever? Plus, our picks for the 5 Worst.
4. The Empire Strikes Back (1992)
In the early days of LucasArts, being able to recreate any amount of the Star Wars trilogy was a gift to fans. Like it's movie counterpart, 1992's Empire Strikes Back — debuting first on the NES then ported over to the Gameboy — managed to, for the first time, convey the thrills of the narrative with involving gameplay. The graphics were low-res, the functionality imperfect (no you f**king Tauntaun, MOVE THIS WAY), but in the end, Luke's Hoth escapades and first taste of force powers made for hours of side-scrolling fun. There's a comic book style to Luke's lightsaber movement that remains imprinted on my mind, even today. — Matt Patches
3. Rogue Squadron (1998)
While we cannot forgive the whines and groans that accompanied Luke Skywalker’s desire to take up with the Academy, we can finally understand just why he so desperately wanted to be a pilot: Rogue Squadron gave us the chance to try our hand behind the X-Wing wheel, zipping with an impressive fluidity (at least for that era of video gaming) through some of the Star Wars franchise’s most formidable locales. Highlights of the game include taking down Imperial Walkers with some fancy footwork and a spool of yarn, and taking a dip in the gelatin-esque waters of Mon Calamari. Avoid the tasty topography of this realm: It’s a trap! — Michael Arbeiter
2. X-Wing Alliance (1998)
The last, and best, game in the PC X-Wing series puts you in the cylindrical cockpit of a YT-1300 freighter (for non-nerds, that’s a ship of the same class as the Millennium Falcon), a Y-Wing, a B-Wing, an A-Wing, and just about every other type of craft you can imagine. But it’s not just a first-person space-combat simulator. X-Wing Alliance tells a deep, involving story about a family, the Azzameens, who run a shipping company around the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. When the Empire tries to take over their business, they defect to the Rebel Alliance, and, as Ace, the hotshot pilot who’s the Azzameen family’s cocky youngest son, you participate in the mission to steal the plans for the Second Death Star and finally fly into the Death Star’s reactor shaft in the Battle of Endor itself. — Christian Blauvelt
1. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (2002)
I’d argue the Star Wars Expanded Universe is at its very best when focusing on characters who aren’t in the films. That allows storytellers other than George Lucas to explore nooks and crannies of the Star Wars galaxy without being a slave to continuity. It also means those novels and videogames don’t feel compelled to drown in the movies’ Joseph Campbell-knockoff mythology and can take different narrative pathways. Exhibit A for how well this can work? The Dark Forces series, which reaches its apex in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, the greatest Star Wars game ever produced. Flinty, bearded, commando-turned-Jedi Kyle Katarn has to rescue his partner and lover, Jan Ors, from the clutches of one of Luke Skywalker’s Jedi students who turned to the Dark Side. It’s Star Wars' answer to The Searchers, and it takes Kyle from the seedy, neon-tinted Hutt demimonde of Nar Shaddaa to the glistening spires of Cloud City (where you have an epic lightsaber fight in the carbon-freeze room, just like Empire Strikes Back!), to the jungles of Yavin 4.
The level maps are crammed with detail, from the little Ugnaughts who populate Cloud City’s underlevels (who you can slice with your lightsaber if you’re feeling mean-spirited: we do!) to the latest craze in interstellar mixology, a ruby bliel, the must-order drink from your local Chiss barman. And though later games like The Force Unleashed have been touted for their gameplay mechanics, none can compare to Jedi Outcast and its hyper-dynamic lightsaber combat—especially when you have “realistic saber combat” mode activated, allowing for full dismemberment. Until someone invents a T-14 hyperdrive, playing Jedi Outcast is the closest thing to visiting that Galaxy Far, Far Away for real. — Christian Blauvelt
THE 5 WORST STAR WARS VIDEOGAMES
5. Force Commander (2000)
LucasArts was never able to make a great real-time strategy game. The closest they ever came was with Star Wars: Empire at War and Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds—Clone Campaigns, which basically just used the Age of Empires engine. Force Commander was a particular misfire, though, with an unwieldy camera and uninspired combat.
4. Empire at War—Forces of Corruption (2006)
However, Force Commander wasn’t as bad as this epic dud. The sequel to Empire at War features the smallest game maps for an RTS game we’ve ever seen. They’re so small that when a Super Star Destroyer shows up for the finale, it takes up practically the entire map, with no room for maneuverability. A huge missed opportunity.
3. Rebellion (1998)
It’s not just that Rebellion hasn’t aged well, it’s that the PC game’s graphics looked archaic even when it came out in 1998, especially compared to what you could find on the N64 with Rogue Squadron, released the same year. A sad, lazy effort.
2. Kinect Star Wars (2012)
This is the game that gave us Princess Leia dancing in her metal bikini to “Genie in a Bottle.” ‘Nuff said.
1. Masters of Teräs Käsi (1998)
With a name like Masters of Teräs Käsi how could it not be the worst Star Wars game ever?
[Photo Credit: LucasArts]