Feature Revisiting Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

A trilogy that could have been.

Justin Knight

Published

By Justin Knight @OptimusJut

The Star Wars license is with EA right now and apparently will be for the next ten years. Reactions to the result of this -- Star Wars Battlefront -- have been mixed, but it has taken some serious flak for its lack of content while asking for full retail price. The game does look and sound beautiful, but according to the likes of YouTubers such as Totalbiscuit and Angry Joe, the game is quite a hollow experience and because of its terrible spawning system the YouTuber Worth a Buy dubbed it a "dying simulator." Star Wars games have always been a mixed bundle of results, never quite managing to hit the nail well and truly on the head but for many fans out there, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series was a good effort... for the most part anyway.

Set between episodes three and four of the saga, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed at first tells the story from Darth Vader's perspective as he is hunting a Jedi Master who is in hiding on the Wookie home world of Kashyyyk. As he finds the Jedi and is getting ready to kill him, Vader discovers his son and kills all who have seen him, even his own men, as he takes him to be his secret apprentice. The child grows up to become Starkiller and Vader dispatches him to hunt down remaining Jedi with the ultimate goal of assassinating the Emperor and ruling the galaxy together. Along the way, Starkiller begins his journey to the Jedi side of the force, and his redemption, as he ultimately faces off against Vader, and then the Emperor, and his death serving as a martyr for what would become the Rebel Alliance. That ending, however, would be what happens if you chose to fight the Emperor at the end. If the player were to choose vengeance and fight Vader, he and his friends would be killed and he would be resurrected as the Emperor's cyborg assassin. This alternative storyline would be explored in two of the three DLCs that would be available.

Darth Vader

Not only was the story impressive but it also boasted an impressive voice cast with Sam Witwer voicing Starkiller and lending his likeness to the character, as well as voicing the Emperor too. Nathalie Cox voiced and also lent her voice and likeness to the character of Juno Eclipse, Starkiller's pilot and eventual love interest, as would be described later as "the one bright spot that he held onto right until his death." Cully Fredrickson would voice General Rahm Kota, the Jedi who would help pull Starkiller away from the Dark Side and there would be a small appearance from Jimmy Smits, portraying his character from the prequel trilogy, Bail Organa. Darth Vader would be voiced by Matt Sloan, who was cast after he voiced such a good impression of Vader's voice for the YouTube series Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager. This is referenced amusingly in the prologue of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed when playing as Vader. If the player kills twelve Storm Troopers, they are awarded the achievement/trophy called "Worst Day Shift Manager Ever."

The game was campaign only, meaning no multiplayer. It received mixed reviews from critics but sold over six million copies, and was not only LucasArts' fastest-selling game but the fastest-selling Star Wars game at the time. The game even won an award from The Writers Guild of America for its writing. Where things would start to go wrong with the game was with the DLC that was released for it. The Jedi Temple DLC was the first to come out and its small storyline hinted that perhaps it had been cut from the game, giving Starkiller a hint of his future if he made the wrong choice.

The next DLC was the Tatooine mission, expanding on what would have happened if Starkiller became the Emperor's assassin as he goes to the planet to find and kill Luke Skywalker, while battling Jabba the Hut's monster and Boba Fett along the way. It ended with an underwhelming fight against Obi-Wan Kenobi, and then his ghost. Reception to this DLC was poor, as not only was it what was full price for a DLC at the time (800 Microsoft points or around $8), but it could be beaten in around twenty minutes. IGN even referred to the boss fight as a joke and rightly so. Fans were angered when it was announced that the game's final DLC, the Hoth mission, would not be released and would only be found on the Ultimate Sith Edition of the game, forcing the more die-hard fans to seek it out and pay its high price. There was an apparent change of mind at LucasArts and the Hoth mission was in the end available for download and was the end of the alternative storyline as a more streamlined version of the cyborg Starkiller travelled to Hoth to confront Luke Skywalker, eventually defeating him and making him his apprentice. Again though, criticism was levelled against its price, similar length to the Tatooine mission and on a strange note that the Xbox 360 version had no achievements for it but the PlayStation version had trophies. No explanation was ever given for this.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II was released in 2008, with its story set six months after it as Vader has managed to clone Starkiller on the planet of Kamino. The clone escapes captivity and goes to find Juno Eclipse and General Kota but Vader hires Boba Fett to capture Juno in an attempt to recapture Starkiller. The story finishes with Starkiller returning to Kamino to confront Vader in a battle that was ever long and almost cinematic or dragged out and tiresome, depending on your point of view. Again there were two endings offered: choose to spare Vader and he is taken prisoner to stand trial, choose to kill him and another clone, a more evil one, uncloaks and kills everyone.

If at this point you are thinking the story seems a bit short then you are quite correct. The main campaign barely lasted four hours and even featured a level where Starkiller journeys to Dagobah and speaks with Yoda, but does nothing else. This level alone drew plenty of criticism from critics and fans alike. The game also featured a challenge mode which appears to represent Starkiller's training before he escapes at the start, but it ultimately came across as nothing more than padding. Granted, the game also boasted some new mechanics such as being able to use the Jedi Mind Trick and dual wielding lightsabers. The Wii version even had a multiplayer mode that other platforms did not, as well as an exclusive Force ability called "Force Rage," which acted in a kind of Bullet Time-style attack. None of the above helped the game's reception, though, as critics were quite divided over it and the game received average to poor reviews, the worst being from IGN, who gave it a 6.5/10. It did not take long before in-store sales of the game declined as a result. Troubles for the game may have been brewing during its production as Hayden Blackman, who directed the first Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and wrote the second, left LucasArts before the second was completed with little explanation given. Fans and critics were also upset with the game's only DLC, which again was set in an alternate timeline where the evil Starkiller clone journeys to Endor, kills Han Solo and Chewbacca before coming face to face with Leia, now a Jedi, and killing her too. Again this DLC could be completed in left than half an hour and even left players with an underwhelming ending that would prove to be the bitter last word from the series.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

The series sadly finished there with the story left on a cliff hanger. During LucasArts' development of what would have been Star Wars 1313, Disney became the new owners of the franchise and the game studio was shut down. Rumours persist that 1313 may not be dead and that is something that fans can be hopeful of, as gameplay footage that was released looked amazing, but for anyone hoping Star Wars: The Force Unleashed would be finished, it is a forlorn hope. EA and Dice are already working on a sequel for Star Wars Battlefront even though none of its paid-for DLC has been released. Yet in what appears to be an attempt to squeeze what they can out of the license before the ten years are up -- something that even though fans are upset about -- most are not surprised because after all, it is EA we are talking about.

Images courtesy of Electronic Arts and LucasArts.