Star Wars Games: Where are my Starfighters?

I grew up watching the Star Wars films and like many others my age wasn’t altogether too interested in being a Jedi knight. Not to say they weren’t cool. I did have a couple of the plastic lightsabers and thought that Yoda was a bad ass.

What I really wanted to be in the context of the film was the pilot of a starfighter. I wanted to take down the Death Star with an X-Wing, topple Imperial Walkers with a snowspeeder, and survive by the skin of my teeth at the Battle of Endor.

Luckily, back in the old days of my childhood (oh the 90s), there was no shortage of good games out there recreating the experience. X-Wing and Tie Fighter are still PC classics. In fact, the first time I played X-Wing was the first time I can remember sitting down at a video game, looking at the clock and realizing that an entire day had passed without my noticing. Later on, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron became one my favorite games on the N64. I did a retro review of it recently and was delighted to find that time had done nothing to change how enjoyable a game it was. Even on the GameCube in the last generation the Rogue Leader games pushed the envelope of recreating the Star Wars experience. The Battle of Endor in the first Rogue Leader game still carries quite a bit of wow factor. The Battlefront games also produced some decent representation of the space action from both trilogies.

This generaton has been markedly sloth when it comes to Star Wars games with a focus on fighter action, though. Aside from the Battlefront games on the PSP (which to my understanding were fairly lackluster) the focus has been very much on being a Jedi. The big Star Wars releases do little turn this tide; The Force Unleashed 2 is another Jedi centric title and The Old Republic, despite the inclusion of the space combat seems to have a stronger focus on those chaps with lightsabers.

A part of this may just because space fighter sims are now virtually nonexistant. If you look at all the major titles from the genre next to none were released within the last ten years. The last Wing Commander game was an embarassment and most of the other major franchises have long since tapered off into obscurity. Where is Freespace? Where’s Colony Wars? Hell, where’s Star Wars for that matter?

More then that though is the simple fact that most Star Wars products, be they toys, videos games, etc, are now geared toward a younger generation whose primary experience the franchise are the prequel films.

Feel free to take a moment to let the horror of that sink in.

Aside from reducing the franchise to a barely recognizable shell of its former self, one thing that the prequels did was to effectively sideline the fighter action. This isn’t to say there wasn’t any. All three prequels did feature fairly fleshed out fighter scenes. That said, they were in many ways quite different from those of the original trilogy.

Compare the big battle from A New Hope with that of The Phantom Menace. Both were focused on an under dog group of pilots trying to bring down a superior force. That said, like much of The Phantom Menace as a whole, the fighter battle felt far more impersonal than the Battle of Yavin. Even if it was just for a few seconds before hand, A New Hope took the time to introduce the Rebel pilots as actual characters. Even if they were at best ancillary characters, their subsequent slaughter still carried more weight. Comparatively, the majority of the pilots in the Phantom Menace are nameless and faceless. The focus is entirely on Anakin and demonstrating that even early on there’s something special about him. The rest of the prequels suffer similar problems. The dogfight between Obi-Wan and Jengo Fett in Attack of the Clones is a fairly pointless action scene and in Revenge of the Sith everyone outside of Anakin and Obi-Wan are literally clones and robots. There is no personality to it, no sense of risk, just a series of CGI fighters exploding for the sake of explosions.

Beyond this is just the fact that the prequel films have an unhealthy obsession with the Jedi. Where the original trilogy had a more mixed composition, even going so far as to make one of the Rebel pilots a recurring character (we love you Wedge!), the prequels are entirely focused on the yawn inducing dealings of the Jedi. If there is fighter action it’s just there to demotrate how cool the Jedi are. Concurrently, the major Star Wars games of this generation are focused on being, you guessed it, a Jedi!

I grew up watching the Star Wars films and like many others my age wasn’t altogether too interested in being a Jedi knight. Not to say they weren’t cool. I did have a couple of the plastic lightsabers and thought that Yoda was a bad ass.

What I really wanted to be in the context of the film was the pilot of a star fighter. I wanted to take down the Death Star with an X-Wing, topple Imperial Walkers with a snow speeder, and survive by the skin of my teeth at the Battle of Endor.

Luckily, back in the old days of my childhood (oh the 90s), there was no shortage of good games out there recreating the experience. X-Wing and Tie Fighter are still PC classics. In fact, the first time I played X-Wing was the first time I can remember sitting down at a video game, looking at the clock and realizing that an entire day had passed without my noticing. Later on, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron became one my favorite games on the N64. I did a retro review of it recently and was delighted to find that time had done nothing to change how enjoyable a game it was. Even on the GameCube in the last generation the Rogue Leader games pushed the envelope of recreating the Star Wars experience. The Battle of Endor in the first Rogue Leader game still carries quite a bit of wow factor. The Battlefront games also produced some decent representation of the space action from both trilogies.

This generation has been markedly sloth when it comes to Star Wars games with a focus on fighter action, though. Aside from the Battlefront games on the PSP (which to my understanding were fairly lackluster) the focus has been very much on being a Jedi. The big Star Wars releases do little turn this tide; The Force Unleashed 2 is another Jedi centric title and The Old Republic, despite the inclusion of the space combat seems to have a stronger focus on those chaps with lightsabers.

A part of this may just because for the most part space fighter sims are now virtually nonexistent. If you look at all the major titles from the genre next to none were released within the last ten years. The last Wing Commander game was an embarrassment and most of the other major franchises have long since tapered off into obscurity. Where is Freespace? Where’s Colony Wars? Hell, where’s Star Wars for that matter?

More then that though is the simple fact that most Star Wars products, be they toys, videos games, etc, are now geared toward a younger generation whose primary experience the franchise are the prequel films.

Feel free to take a moment to let the horror of that sink in.

Aside from reducing the franchise to a barely recognizable shell of its former self, one thing that the prequels did was to effectively sideline the fighter action. This isn’t to say there wasn’t any. All three prequels did feature fairly fleshed out fighter scenes. That said, they were in many ways quite different from those of the original trilogy.

Compare the big battle from A New Hope with that of The Phantom Menace. Both were focused on an under dog group of pilots trying to bring down a superior force. That said, like much of The Phantom Menace as a whole, the fighter battle felt far more impersonal than the Battle of Yavin. Even if it was just for a few seconds before hand, A New Hope took the time to introduce the Rebel pilots as actual characters. Even if they were at best ancillary characters, their subsequent slaughter still carried more weight. Comparatively, the majority of the pilots in the Phantom Menace are nameless and faceless. The focus is entirely on Anakin and demonstrating that even early on there’s something special about him. The rest of the prequels suffer similar problems. The dogfight between Obi-Wan and Jengo Fett in Attack of the Clones is a fairly pointless action scene and in Revenge of the Sith everyone outside of Anakin and Obi-Wan are literally clones and robots. There is no personality to it, no sense of risk, just a series of CGI fighters exploding for the sake of explosions.

Beyond this is just the fact that the prequel films have an unhealthy obsession with the Jedi. Where the original trilogy had a more mixed composition, even going so far as to make one of the Rebel pilots a recurring character (we love you Wedge!), the prequels are entirely focused on the yawn inducing dealings of the Jedi. If there is fighter action it’s just there to demonstrate how cool the Jedi are. Concurrently, the major Star Wars games of this generation are focused on being, you guessed it, a Jedi!

Which is fine, to a point. The Jedi knights are iconic figures in popular culture and easily one of the cooler creations of the Star Wars films. I’m currently playing through Knights of the Old Republic for the first time and love the Jedi-centric plot. That said, even the Jedi become stale if they’re all that you focus on. My genuine wish is just that someone would put some effort into recreating some of the other cooler elements of the franchise. As much as I liked watching Luke and Vader duke it out in Return of the Jedi, my attention was more often fixed on the Rebel ships weaving their way through the marauding waves of Tie Fighters and Star Destroyers.

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