A beloved and enduring franchise has returned to form and highlights what is becoming a trend in the industry
The legendary Star Wars franchise hasn't had the best of runs since Disney's takeover.
On the movie front, four films have so far graced the big screen - two major entries in the final trilogy for the main storyline (with the third arriving in December) alongside two spin-off type films that explore other events and characters featured in the main story in further detail.
Disney's first foray into the franchise was a great success with veteran director JJ Abrams behind the helm, as The Force Awakens (episode 7 in the triple-trilogy saga) was a solid but unremarkable film that did its job in giving fans hope that the House of Mouse wasn't going to butcher their beloved franchise. The first spinoff film Rogue One followed a group of rebels as they stole the Empire's plans for the Death Star in a daring raid - after a slow start the film picks up and is a satisfying and fun romp through a lesser known story in Star Wars canon.
Just as enthusiasm for Star Wars was reaching a fever pitch for the highly anticipated episode 8, shit hit the proverbial fan thanks to Disney's decision to have a different director (and their own team of writers) handle each film in the trilogy. The Last Jedi came out to raving reviews by the media, but fans were much less thrilled by director Rian Johnson's horrible mess of a film and blatent political pandering. I'm not exaggerating in saying that The Last Jedi was quite literally one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Horrid directing, a terrible script that even great actors like Oscar Isaac couldn't sell, a bland and painfully predictable plot, shoehorned-in leftist political pandering complete with cringe-inducing side characters there merely to tick racial boxes, and even horrifically shoddy CG despite its blockbuster budget all combined for one of the most dreadful viewing experiences I've ever sat through.
Why Disney planned to have a different director for each movie in the final trilogy I will never understand; JJ Abrams had apparently created an overarching map for the trilogy when he created The Force Awakens, only for sequel director Rian Johnson to scrap it entirely (with Disney's approval) and create an entirely different story that completely changed the direction of the narrative and broke so much of the established lore and rules of the Star Wars universe one has to wonder if Johnson and his writers had bothered to watch any of the other films at all.
As a result of The Last Jedi the trilogy has lost all cohesion and entire plot points started in episode 7 were entirely butchered and shit on, iconic characters were ruined by Johnson's "vision" and any enthusiasm for the final entry in the trilogy has died. Rian Johnson has become one of the most hated directors in the world due to his handling of both the movie and the backlash - his smug responses to any criticism scream of holier-than-thou Hollywood elitism, and the director blamed the massive backlash on Star Wars' "toxic fanbase" rather than acknowledging any of his movie's glaring shortcomings.
The second non-trilogy movie, Solo, was an origin story of sorts for Star Wars icon Han Solo (sans Harrison Ford given his age). Thanks to the infected wound that was The Last Jedi and a weak marketing campaign, the flick bombed at the box office (compared to its creation costs of course) and Disney put future spin-off movies on hold because of it, rather than acknowledging it was a direct response from fans to Rian Johnson's turd of a film. Despite its failure at the box office, the film itself was surprisingly fun and action-packed and is arguably the best Star Wars movie of the last decade, though of course it ultimately has no bearing on the main trilogy and its direction.
Following their massive blunder Disney is returning the director's chair to JJ Abrams for the final entry in the trilogy. How much Abrams can actually do to salvage the series from the heaping pile of garbage Johnson left him is anyone's guess, but it's unlikely to offer a wholy satisfying conclusion to the 9-film arc thanks to the story threads he now has to work with. We'll see when The Rise of Skywalker hits theatres next month, but I wouldn't expect it to pull back many of the fans their last entry pissed on - bet on it having a rather lukewarm reception at the box office.
To return to fans' good graces however, Disney has taken Star Wars to the small screen in the competent hands of Jon Favreau with The Mandalorian, an 8-episode series released weekly as the flagship title for the launch of their Disney+ streaming service. Disney+, if you somehow don't already know, is basically the streaming service dreams are made of - for children that is. Very little content is on there for adults (unless you like children's movies and animated flicks) other than the already released Marvel movies and of course the Star Wars films. New content that isn't aimed at kids is in remarkably short supply, with The Mandalorian being the only title until some of the Marvel TV series air next year, but those are few and far between.
While the new show doesn't quite capture the badassery and professionalism of the Mandalorians depicted in books and videogames that fans like me were hoping for, so far it's a lighthearted and fun series that captures the classic essence of a good Star Wars adventure (even if the episodes are a bit short). It also features an adorable alien (that I won't spoil here) that's taken the internet by storm, so there's that.
The series' positive reception and large following shows there's still a massive audience for Star Wars stories if they're done right, and hopefully Disney will keep that in mind as they go forward.
On the videogame front, Disney's handling of the IP makes even their handling of the Star Wars movies look great in comparison.
The Star Wars Videogame Legacy
Star Wars has a long and storied history in videogames. While plenty of cheaply made and lazy titles have been churned out by smaller studios to make a quick buck off the franchise name, just as many AAA classics have been delivered over the years. Some of the most beloved and esteemed videogames in history have been set in the Star Wars universe and in many different genres.
Shooters like Battlefront, Battlefront II, and my personal favourite, Republic Commando are certified classics in the minds of gamers and critics alike. RPG fans often rank Knights of the Old Republic as one of the greatest games ever made to this day. Racing and space flight gamers fondly recall the classic pod racing game back in the N64 days and the Rogue Squadron and Jedi Starfighter series. For action/adventure fans there were the Jedi Knight titles and The Force Unleashed (we'll forget it ever had a sequel), amongst others. If you had any interest in the franchise at all, there was a great Star Wars game to play in your preferred genre.
Shortly after Disney purchased the Star Wars empire back in 2012, they shockingly chose to shutter the entire LucasArts arm of the company.
LucasArts was to videogames what LucasFilm was to movies, if not even more so, and to witness the entire Star Wars gaming universe shut down was a sad sight to see. LucasArt's staff was laid off and all projects in development were cancelled - this included Star Wars 1313, a highly anticipated title focused around fan-favourite Boba Fett and the underworld of iconic Star Wars city Coruscant. The loss of 1313 was the biggest disappointment for fans, especially considering it was deep into development at the time and the footage that had been shown to the world had set the gaming community on fire, with 1313 one of if not the most anticipated upcoming games at the time.
To make matters worse and to the dismay of gamers everywhere, Disney announced in May of 2013 that they had partnered with Electronic Arts, giving the company an exclusive licensing deal to publish Star Wars games going forward.
While EA has plenty of talented game studios under its umbrella, the company is known for less-than-fan-friendly business decisions and rather poor management that has made them one of the most hated brands in North America (no really, they won awards) for much of the past decade. They also have a unique talent for purchasing highly skilled development studios only to run them into the ground and close them within years (sometimes even months) of acquiring them.
Up until now, in the last 6 years we've seen just two Star Wars games released: Battlefront and Battlefront II. A reboot of the beloved Battlefront titles by LucasArts and now-defunct developer Pandemic Studios, the two newer Battlefronts were both created by DICE, the talented team behind the Battlefield franchise. To make you more confused on names starting with Battle-, DICE's Battlefront games are both essentially watered down versions of Battlefield, albeit with the look and feel of Star Wars (they definitely nailed the atmosphere and setting at least).
Both games were actually well done and quite fun shooters, combining aspects of the old Battlefront games with DICE's propensity for immersive combat and gorgeous graphics as well as the iconic sights and sounds of the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, the first entry contained no story mode whatsoever, focusing entirely on the multiplayer aspect which still managed to be light on content; the second entry had a fun and impressive (though very short) campaign to coincide with a range of additions and improvements, but EA's infamous management got in the way of it being a success.
The game's multiplayer was completely ruined thanks to EA forcing an incredibly grinding and insulting pay-to-win microtransaction model into the game that turned the entire system into a way to force players into forking over more cash after they had already dropped $60+ on the title. The loot boxes and levelling system were so broken in fact that EA and even Disney itself were forced to issue public apologies at the game's launch and promised an overhaul, with EA disabling most of the microtransactions entirely right after the game was released. Of course disabling them did nothing to fix the mess of a levelling system and the damage was already done.
The disastrous launch left many fans abandoning the title even after updates fixed much of the mess (it did take a while to do) and turned it into the fun shooter that it should have been in the first place. The Battlefront II launch fiasco cost EA a roughly 8.5% plunge in share prices and over $3 billion in share value, essentially destroying EA's Battlefront series.
A promising single-player, story-driven Star Wars title was reported to be in the works at Visceral Games, a capable studio that had created the popular Dead Space games and had Amy Hennig, the director of Playstation's massive hit Uncharted, at its helm. Unfortunately, EA shuttered Visceral Games in large part due to the underperformance of Battlefield Hardline, a law enforcement-focused shooter borrowing the Battlefield brand that EA never should have tasked them with in the first place and was always destined for failure (although it was a solid game in its own right).
That Star Wars project was then passed on to EA Vancouver, who basically started from scratch and were aiming to build an open-world action game instead, only for EA to scrap the project entirely shortly after for unknown reasons.
It seemed like we were going to be waiting a while to get another Star Wars game, and EA had clearly squandered the enormous opportunities they had been afforded by the Star Wars license.
But then, EA decided to do something smart for once.
Respawning in 3...2...1...
Respawn Entertainment was formed back in 2010 by two high-profile former Infinity Ward executives: Vince Zampella (CEO, co-founder) and Jason West (President, Game Director). You may recognize Infinity Ward as the creators of one of the biggest franchises in media history: Call of Duty. After a messy departure from the famed developer which resulted in lawsuits and many of Infinity Ward's staff resigning to follow their former leaders, the new developer looked to EA's pocketbook to supply the cash needed to publish their idea for a major new shooter: Titanfall.
Having freshly led Infinity Ward to releasing one of the best and most successful games in history with Modern Warfare 2 and sporting many of the key staff from that title, all eyes were on what the new developer would put out in their debut.
In many ways, Titanfall delivered a first person shooter fan's dream game: fast and furious gameplay, unique weapons that felt great to use, unparalleled mobility, plenty of gadgets and abilities, and even giant mechs to fight in to boot. A multiplayer-focused title, Titanfall launched as an Xbox One exclusive to much fanfare in 2014 and its mix of Call of Duty's amazing gunplay with a slick futuristic aesthetic, awesome mech battles, wall-running and other mobility boosters, and its supremely polished package made it an instant favourite amongst shooter fans.
A sequel that came to both Xbox One and PS4 in 2016 delivered the one thing the first entry was lacking: a single player story. Respawn's first campaign was shockingly GOOD and ranks amongst the best campaigns in first-person shooter history, with its amazing mechanics, slew of gameplay additions and design improvements, a surprisingly deep and unique narrative and some truly inspired level design.
Unfortunately, despite Titanfall 2's critical acclaim and love amongst its fans, EA opted to launch the shooter in an incredibly packed release window that saw it competing directly with Call of Duty and EA's own Battlefield entry along with other massive titles. Combined with a lackluster marketing campaign thanks to EA's choice to focus on marketing Battlefield, EA's mismanagement made one of the best shooters in modern history an afterthought in the minds of casual gamers. EA's poor publishing support of the title severely hurt its commercial success and put the budding franchise on hold.
Despite this, EA purchased Respawn Entertainment outright in 2017. Fans feared that the brilliant developer would be run aground just like so many other promising studios have been thanks to EA's mismanagement, but so far, creatively EA has let Respawn do their own thing.
Earlier this year, EA surprise-launched Apex Legends, a free-to-play squad-based battle royale game loosely set in the Titanfall universe (despite not having any Titans in it). The game was announced the same day it became available on consoles and PC in a Netflix-style release that smartly garnered massive publicity, proving that even a company like EA can occasionally make wise decisions.
The game and release strategy proved to be a massive success, with Respawn's surprise title being downloaded by over 50 million players in its opening month alone. A 60-player battle royale game placing players into squads of 3, Apex Legends combines useful character abilities and special attacks popular in hero shooters like Overwatch with the fast-paced movement (albeit toned down to keep things from getting too chaotic) and brilliant shooting mechanics of Titanfall set in Respawn's take on an immensely popular game mode.
Compared to other battle royale games (including Call of Duty Black Ops 4's version) Apex offers superior and more polished gameplay, more tactical squad mechanics and simplified looting and upgrade systems that are easy for new players to understand yet are also surprisingly deep.
The game has continued to hold a massive following and remains a top draw on game streaming services like Twitch, and despite being free-to-play, EA has been surprisingly generous with its systems and microtransactions are all purely cosmetic, copying other successful free-to-play titles like Fortnite.
Since EA's purchase of the company, Respawn had also been working quietly on a new entry in the Star Wars universe. Branching out from their first-person shooter roots, Respawn has crafted a third-person action game following an all new story in the Star Wars universe. While a Star Wars shooter made by Respawn would surely have been incredible, a story-driven, hack-and-slash Star Wars game hasn't been seen since the old The Force Unleashed series back on the last generation of consoles.
Apparently, someone at Respawn was confident in the team's ability to change genres. Not only that, but EA has seemingly given their star developer free reign over the project and completely eschewed their typical microtransaction model. The new Respawn-led Star Wars title has absolutely no loot boxes to speak of, no microtransaction model, and no tacked-on games-as-a-service or co-op content to speak of. This is a pure and old-fashioned Star Wars game without the typical stench of an EA offering: who knew getting back to the basics would be exactly what a flailing franchise would need?
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Despite apparently being rushed into releasing their first non-first person shooter game ever (rumours heavily suggest that EA wanted the game out before The Rise of Skywalker hit theatres), Respawn has made the most of their first foray into the Star Wars universe.
The strong narrative direction puts players in the shoes of Cal Kestis, a young Jedi Padawan who looks to help revive the fallen Jedi Order while being chased by the Empire. Taking place shortly after the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi were systematically exterminated by the clones following Order 66 and surviving stragglers were hunted down with extreme prejudice.
Having survived by blending in as a scrapper at a ship junkyard on the fringe of the galaxy, Cal is forced into a fight for survival after being caught using the force to save the life of a friend in a construction accident.
Life for the Jedi post-Order 66 is an arduous one as the few remaining forces for good are scattered and forced (see what I did there?) into hiding - it's focused on quite heavily in the expanded Star Wars universe (books, The Clone Wars cartoon, etc.) but the movies have yet to fully explore just how devastating this "purge" was for the Jedi and their sympathizers. It's brought to the forefront here and provides an engaging and sometimes grim undertone to the game world - it also explores what happens to the unfortunate Jedi that are captured by the Empire and the torture they endure. Despite darker tones and more mature themes, Respawn still manages to make the adventure fun and filled with wonder.
Cal quickly finds an adorable droid companion on his journey, BD-1, who helps him along his path and becomes key