EU and Gaming: Thoughts on Their Relationship

EU-and-Gaming-Cover

– The following contains spoilers for several games –

Update 6/7/14: This article originally appeared on Knights’ Archive on 8/23/13, before the EU reboot was announced. Parts have been added to this article to reflect the new dawn of Star Wars storytelling.

Imagine this: strapped in the top turret of the Millennium Falcon, the ship shuddering from the projectiles of enemy craft, you’ll have to actively ignore Han Solo bellowing obscenities after each hit to keep your concentration. You swivel the turret, attempting to keep the asteroid shaped objects currently assailing the Falcon within your targeting frame. You snap off a few shots, but the yorik coral black hole defenses suck in every one. A torpedo distracts the yorik’s defenses and your next shots chip chunks off the living ship, spilling the Vong warriors into the vacuum of space.Assuming direct control of the Falcon, you deftly maneuver through the bigger battle, but a bad decision, smashing into a Vong capital ship, brings your flying days to an end. Several moments later, you’ve respawned and ready to try again. The Yuuzhan Vong are one of most video gamey villains in recent EU, but they’ve never been put in one. In fact, much of the EU hasn’t been used for video games and the bits that have are usually of questionable quality. Now with the Disney deal, the EU’s full line of video game potential may never be touched. Whether or not that’s a good thing is something this article will try to answer, looking at what we’ve already got, what we could’ve gotten, and what we’ll probably be getting.

“Always in motion, the future is,” aptly applies to the uncertainty with the EU as we know it. As we near a final say on the EU vs the Sequels, my mind wandered off towards video games (as it naturally does) and the relationship the novels and games have had over the years. UPDATE: Now that we know the EU has become Legends, lots of what is below will never be heard from again. But much like all properties that are now Legends, they’ll always be around to enjoy so don’t fret. That copy of Knights of the Old Republic will still stay on your computer! Now this article is more a look at what Legends gaming gave us, but also still considers what might be in this new Star Wars storytelling era. In fact, what might be will probably be more in line with the multimedia projects of the past, since any new Star Wars game is part of the official canon now. Update done. So from the multimedia projects like Shadows of the Empire and The Force Unleashed, to minor shout-outs/cameos, and tons of Old Republic era content added to the EU thanks to gaming, we’ve gotten a wide range of connectivity and cross-over. The quality has fluctuated more than my voice did through puberty, but when it was good, it was usually spectacularly good.

The Old Republic Era
What We Already Got

Tales of the JediNothing was more spectacularly better than the ever expanding content within the Old Republic era. Tales of the Jedi, a comic series released in the late 90’s, was some of the first original material set in the time period (I remember reading a few issues, but I can’t remember the reasons for stopping. However, I’d hazard a guess it was due to the Special Editions releasing and the hype surrounding Ep. I’s impending takeover of cinemas). The series mainly followed events surrounding the Great Sith War, some 4,000 BBY (Ep. IV), with a focus on the Jedi turned Sith Ulic Qel-Droma. Unhindered by complications with the films and novels due to the 4000 year time gap, the era was ripe for expansion after the series was completed in 1998. To do just that, in came 2003’s Knights of the Old Republic, a RPG game that is not only one of the best Star Wars games of all time, but also regarded among the best video games of all time.

Spinning a yarn unlike any other Star Wars game before it, Bioware’s KotOR brought a playable novel’s worth of action adventure/decision-packed gameplay onto gamers’ TV screens. While familiar elements like Jedi vs Sith, Wookiees, and droid companions felt reminiscent of the films, KotOR added a wealth of original canonicity to the Legends’ stories previously unseen from any game. The tale of Revan and companions against the former student Darth Malak is almost as classic a tale as Zahn’s Thrawn TrilogyStar Wars fans who never played games finally played one, gamers who never played a Star Wars game finally played one, and gamers who avoided RPGs and Star Wars games finally changed their minds. Never before had so much choice and freedom been allowed for a tale set in the GFFA and response to the well-crafted tale showed that fans were eager for similar experiences. And don’t just take my word for it: check out this expansive, thoughtful, and interesting look at KotOR from Tosche Station’s Bria. Following the game’s massive success from critics and fans alike, a sequel was made: KotOR II: The Sith Lords. Though not as well received as the original, its release satiated fans eagerly craving for more of the Old Republic setting. These two games were just the start: a Knights of the Old Republic comic series was made to tie Tales of the Jedi to the 1st game; MMORPG The Old Republic continued some 300 years after the two original games and had several novel/comic tie-ins to hype and build the era; while other tales try to fill-in blanks from these events up till the Saga we all know.

Knights of the Old Republic

Since the Old Republic era owes the vast majority of its Legends canon to the games, it’s been interesting to watch how the novels handled all the choice gameplay: forcing canonicity. Not particularly a bad thing, but having your Revan debunked by the white human male, light-side novel Revan and your Exile being Meetra Surik light-side, white human female kind of takes the ownership away from replaying the titles. It’s understandable and utterly necessary for the novels to make a decision on what should’ve been ‘canon’ (and for the sake of the sanity of the Holocron Keeper, Leeland Chee), but having something out there that says your choices aren’t the right way, for sure, can put a damper on the two games. But that’s what fan-fic is for, right?

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve

Out of all the eras to be discussed, the Old Republic is likely to be the least effected by the Sequel’s version of canon. Already it hasn’t affected much of the Prequel and onward eras, so there’s little cause for concern for it to hamper anything Ep. VII related. That being said, a spin-off film could theoretically be Old Republic based (or contain flashbacks) and then this era could be in trouble. Until then, I’d not be surprised if more material was made by the novels/comics and that they’d might even go further back in time (more Dawn of the Jedi, please). As for content novels/comics/games might have missed, it’s hard to say since they’ve been the heralds of the material, not having to rely on any of the films or a TV show.

Dawn of the Jedi

However, games made before the buyout already missed out on the endless opportunities within this era. There’s roughly 25,000 years’ worth of material ripe for gaming: an adventure/thriller game about setting up the first hyperspace beacons; either galactic domination as the Rakatans or slaves revolting against the Infinite Empire; be at the heart of the Hundred-Year Darkness; etc. Add in all the blank spaces through that time period and we’re looking at endless possibilities…which look to stay that way.

What We’ll (Probably) Get

EA’s CFO Blake Jorgensen has stated any new games created by their relationship from buying licensing rights won’t be, “…movie games, per se; these are stand-alone games. But obviously they would come out near the movies and be able to tailgate off of some of the buzz that will be created around the new Star Wars movies.” (via Gamespot). Comments like that could mean we’ll see less games in the Old Republic era (for now), as the newest ones probably will be focusing on being as relatable to the new films as possible (era-wise, at least). And if Disney’s Lucasfilm’s push away from prequel related content (canceling The Clone Wars) is anything to go by, I’d make the stretch and say that’s more evidence to back up my assumption from Jorgensen’s comments.

But with Bioware being one of developers already tasked with another SW game after the licensing agreement, it wouldn’t be too shocking if they stuck to their bread and butter Old Republic era. There’s not much room for choice-fueled gameplay in Prequel/Original Trilogy timelines as most of the choices have already been made, so if you’d like more Old Republic, cross those fingers tightly and hold onto hope.

Post-New Dawn of Star Wars Storytelling (Update)

While it’s still somewhat unclear whether the Old Republic MMO is or isn’t new canon, we know the KotORs aren’t, but this era of Star Wars is ripe for story opportunities in a new always connected canon. However, the KotOR games have done an exceptional job opening up the galaxy in this era, and it’s hard to imagine any new canon stories in the same time frame will be able to top the experience. It’s possible that BioWare was brought on with the express purpose of making a game to canonically replace KotOR, but with all the Original Trilogy focus going on it might be awhile before we get anything in this era, let alone a video game.

The Dark Times
What We Already Got

The Force UnleashedMuch like this era’s nickname suggests, video games (nor other forms of media) didn’t do much to shed light on the 20 year gap between trilogies. If you want content in this time period, your primary current source is some comics, a few books, and the upcoming Rebels TV show. The small amount of games which take place in the Dark Times either contributed little to the EU and weren’t good or added to the EU but were largely forgotten: The original Dark Forces and the very often overlooked Lethal Alliance both concern gathering versions of the Death Star plans while assisting the Alliance to Restore the Republic and have Kyle Katarn in them; Empire at War plays out defiling the Empire (or crushing the Rebels) on a galactic scale prior to AHN, but there was no real contribution to canon just usage of existing materials. The only real significant inclusion to the overarching EU in the Dark Times stems from the Force Unleashed series, but its significance has dwindled measurably.

While The Force Unleashed was originally supposed to fill in some important details in the 20 year gap, which it did, events which transpired within have largely been untouched and unreferenced in any EU novels following the game’s release. No material has had Leia mention meeting series protagonist Galen Marek, there’s been no further discussion on how it was the Emperor’s plans to create the Rebellion, nor has anyone cheered about the young Alliance’s victory at Kamino. I wish I knew the reasons for the blackout, but the events in the first game actually do add some interesting moments to the EU and it’s a shame they no longer seem to matter.

Lethal AllianceAlso to note is Lethal Alliance’s protagonist playable character being female, which is a rarity across all of gaming, especially Star Wars. The only other games to do so are the KotOR series, were playing as a female is a choice, Dark Forces II expansion Mysteries of the Sith were you play as Mara Jade, and both Starfighter and Jedi Starfighter games. Rianna Saren, Lethal Alliance’s main character, is a strong and fierce Twi’lek who has escaped slavery and is out not only to get revenge but to help the Alliance. I’d gladly read a book about her character and the mental journey she takes while contemplating revenge on her previous captors/torturers and assisting the Rebels. In fact, her take on the whole move to finally eradicate slavery in the Fate of the Jedi series would’ve been an interesting perspective to have as well. Why her tale was relegated to handhelds and not brought to the consoles is a shame and again, the events in LA aren’t ever really mentioned again in the greater EU.

And so, with the disappearing contributions to the EU, the Dark Times remains as dark as ever from video games.

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve

TFUII’s cliffhanger ending, where Vader was captured, was a pretty surprising and interesting development which deserves some type of closure. Of course we all know Vader gets away, but the how of it, and whether Galen Marek and crew survive, could certainly be an intriguing tale. But I highly doubt we’ll see another entry in TFU series in gaming, and while a book would be appreciated, there’s certainly no guarantee we’d get one of those either (Update: We are most certainly not getting any more expansion to The Force Unleashed series)

1313The biggest thing to mention here is the impressive looking 1313 that was cancelled following Disney’s buyout and LucasArts’ closure. Several sections of the Lucas companies were coming together to make 1313 the ultimate return to form for Star Wars gaming. From the small bits of gameplay we did see, the game certainly looked gorgeous, but there’s no idea what type of potential it had. I seriously doubt the EA deal will pick up where LucasArts left on 1313, but a little part of me will always hope.

Other than those ideas, there’s not much else to look at what could’ve been pre-Disney era, since Mr. Lucas never seemed to want much told about the Dark Times outside the gestating live-action series.

What We’ll (Probably) Get

Just like all the tie-in, child orientated games for The Clone Wars, look for similar experiences after Rebels hits TV stations late 2014.

Post-New Dawn of Star Wars Storytelling (Update)

I’m pretty sure my previous prediction of child orientated games will uphold, however with 3 of the first 4 canon novels taking place during the previously always dark ‘Dark Times,’ it could be possible one of the first games non-Battlefront from the EA licensing deal with be an adult orientated game taking place in this era. No, it won’t be 1313, but it’ll be similar in tone and era. We’ll know more by E3 in early June of this year, 2014. Oh, and definitely no Force Unleashed 3. Part of me is kind of relieved.

Prequels/Clone Wars
What We Already Got

Bounty HunterWhat I find the most interesting about video games related to the Prequels or Clone Wars is how they’re mostly reactionary. Several games attempt at telling new tales, but lots of them never really become accepted into the greater EU canon (mainly because they were causal/kid games). The games that did add to EU are: Bounty Hunter, telling the events which led to Jango Fett’s recruitment for the clone army, and Republic Commando, which spawned a series of books with an unique focus on elite clone commandos. Others tried to tell stories that have never moved beyond their games: The Clone Wars (unrelated to the animated series), a vehicle-based game with attempted ties to the Tales of the Jedi comics; Battlefront: Elite Squadron, where two clones were made from a Jedi to serve in the Republic Army, their tale lasting from the Clone Wars up till post RotJ-era.

Outside of those games mentioned above, the rest of the material is expansions on the films and eventual TV show. For example: Episode I Racer didn’t try having any real story and just gave us gamers more podracing, doing so exceedingly well, while showing several planets not seen in films (while its sequel was ho-hum); Revenge of the Sith just prolonged events in the film to make it more video game accessible; the Battlefront series let you duke out battles only mentioned or briefly seen in the films; while Lego became a legit gaming franchise thanks to its take on the prequels.

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve

Sure, Ep. I Racer and the Battlefronts visited planets we’ve only read about in the novels, but most of these mentions or visits were ancillary and fan-servicing at best. Where was a game focusing on the adventures of young Obi-Wan teaching a growing Anakin? There was Rogue Planet, the Jedi Quest series, and Outbound Flight for books that contain some of that training, but certainly a game could’ve been made about it as well. Or give Darth Maul his own game, especially since he had almost as much fan interest as Boba Fett that TCW even revived him from his most certain death. Heck, introduce another smuggler character and explore the time period through their eyes. Anything really, besides all the reliance the games had on the films/tv show.

What We’ll (Probably) Get

Nothing. Like I mentioned in the Old Republic’s What We’ll (Probably) Get section, there seems to be a push away from Prequel related content (minus a few upcoming novels) so a return to this sometimes maligned era doesn’t seem to be in the cards, especially for video games.

Post-New Dawn in Star Wars Storytelling (Update)

Nothing. Like I mentioned in the previous section here, all this Original Trilogy focus makes a Prequel related video game nearly impossible for a while. Maybe a game that takes place in the ‘Dark Times’ will have Prequel characters or references, but nothing will be taking place expressly in the Prequel era.

Original Trilogy
What We Already Got

X-WingLots of the games that take place in the OT-era have to be given slack in relations to the EU, since it didn’t really exist when the first games were being made. Therefore, lots of these early games were made purely to satiate fans taste for interactive Star Wars media and didn’t really care or attempt to worry about something called ‘canon.’ After the Thrawn Trilogy, everything changed and canon became ever so important, while Star Wars gaming gained popularity outside arcade rooms and was brought home to PCs with the X-Wing flight-sim series. The X-Wing series is the first time games added to the EU, and while there was lots of retconning needed as the EU fleshed out, it was largely a success.

X-Wing introduced Keyan Farlander, another Outer Rim inhabitant who turns into a heroic fighter pilot, and Jedi, in the fight against the Empire. He was retconned into Ep.IV and VI and survived long enough to appear in the tail end of the New Jedi Order series, making him one of the bigger game contributed characters as he’s now part of the new canon as he was in the films.

Shadows of the Empire

But the characters most people remember from games set in this era come from the multimedia project Shadows of the Empire. Whether it’s Xizor and the Black Sun, Dash Render and his Outrider, or Guri the lovely killer android, SotE and its EI=U additions are almost as fondly remembered as the films. Unlike the later failure of TFU, the events/characters/organizations/etc. created for this endeavor have stood the test of time and are regularly mentioned throughout the EU and even The Clone Wars. I wish I could say it was thanks to just the video game, but SotE was more successful thanks to the novel and comic (and great soundtrack imo) versions.

Before The Old Republic was a glint in developer Bioware’s eyes, gamers got their SW MMO fix with Galaxies from Sony Online Entertainment and EA. It might not have been the smoothest of experiences, but unlike any game before it, Galaxies really did it’s best to mine every ounce of glitterstim from the EU. Whether it was giving Bothans a playable or interactive role, visiting planets like Corellia, Dathomir, and Ord Mantell, or causing trouble with the Black Sun, it rewarded EU fans while showing the uninitiated a taste of what they were missing.

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve

Games certainly could’ve attempted to cover smaller events surrounding the films, but since the era is so tightly packed, wiggle room really isn’t an option. And if you were to set your game in this era, there had to be ties to films or else people would most likely not respond to it. With such limited space and time, it’s hard to speculate or wish for anything to be shoved in here that hasn’t already been covered in some capacity in other forms of media.

Thrawn

Though I will say, a game centered around Thrawn’s actions, prior to the Thrawn Trilogy, in the Unknown Regions and his battles with Nuso Esva (or more books about it) would’ve been pretty sweet. Here’s hoping Thrawn makes the Ep. VII canon cut somehow.

What We’ll (Probably) Get

This is probably the trickiest part to ponder on. Since we have no idea, minus Battlefront, what exactly the new games will be, and how much of the new canon they’ll use, everything is pure conjecture at this moment. But as I stated before, if they’re going to be moving away from Prequel stuff, then it’s possible we could be getting OT/Post-RotJ experiences (I’ll be reiterating some of these points in the Post-RotJ section coming up).

Post-New Dawn in Star Wars Storytelling (Update)

In an effort to build up more of the new canon, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more games covering the rather busy timeline of the Original Trilogy. Heck, we could even see a whole new Shadows of the Empire since that is now Legends material (which is kind of surprising, given that it was a rather contained story in a very limited time-frame, though with Dash Rendar’s ship in Ep.IV, that’s at least still canon). With only 1 new canon novel in this particular timeline, who knows what they’ll do to build up background for Ep.VII and beyond, but expect to be flying X-Wings or Tie Fighters in more than just a Battlefront title.

Post-RotJ
What We Already Got

Luke and KatarnNot a whole lot. Minus the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series, no game has really touched on events circa 4 ABY and onward. The JK games spanned from 5 ABY to 14 ABY, which is a large swath of EU and the games still told their own tales despite all the other material. And thanks to there being so much other material, the series didn’t mind throwing in EU bits to expand its stories, locations, and technology. There were some missteps with the material, like putting a Noghri skin on generic AI ‘just because’ instead of making them closer to their novel counterparts, but the issues were few and far between.

Both protagonists of the JK series, Kyle Katarn and Jaden Korr have been placed within later EU novels. Unfortunately for both, the inclusions have their setbacks, though Jaden gets the better part of the deal. While Katarn only received a few speaking parts or random mentions in the novels, Jaden got a whole duology. Much like Revan’s novel, Jaden is type-casted as the white-male mold, whereas in Jedi Academy you had the choice of making Jaden several species or a lady. Overlooking that misstep, the novels Crosscurrent and Riptide have some interesting takes on what it would mean to be a Force-user clone (doing a WAY better job than TFUII) and include some time-travelling-ish oddity to it all. Oh, and an Anzat who sucks out the brains of his prey. Tasty.

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve

Where, exactly, should I start? Rogue Squadron games could’ve pulled material from the novel series or even became a game called Wraith Squadron; Anything that had to do with the Yuuzhan Vong, as the opening to this article was dedicated to. Give me a RPG, flight game, third person action game, platformer, anything with the Vong; go up against the Yevetha; follow Corran Horn’s early days at CorSec solving mysteries and murders; journey the galaxy with your Jedi master, answering the call of duty; play as any or all of the Solo children; etc.

Seriously, I could go on and on and on. And I know you could too.

What We’ll (Probably) Get

Ep. VII…enough said. How much it will shake up the EU as we know it is the only real determining factor when it comes to future video games set in this time period. Crossing fingers for anything else would just be a waste of your hands.

Post-New Dawn in Star Wars Storytelling (Update)

I wish I could say learning the EU is now all Legends helps clear up what we’ll be seeing in terms of video games for the post-RotJ era, but it manages to leave it with an even bigger question mark. However, I’m going to bet some real cold cash on the fact that one of the upcoming EA titles to be announced at E3 2014 will be a game that takes place in this era, giving us a first tease of what’s to come. The bet? 10 dollars…but that doesn’t mean I lack confidence in my prediction, it’s just the cheapskate in me who doesn’t want to lose money

In conclusion, I realize that gaming isn’t always first and foremost on most fans’ minds, especially with the new films and TV show on their way, but gaming has definitely changed throughout the years and is more than capable of telling sweeping epics and personal triumphs as seen on the big screen. So while many may have dismissed games in the past for their lack of storytelling, just look to games like The Last of UsUncharted series, Mass Effect series, and the Batman Arkham games to see how games can handle everything from dystopian survival with personal consequences, sweeping action adventures, space operas, and deft inclusion of (comic) source material.

Tying into that, EA’s game label president recently did an interview with Polygon, stating they want to rethink Star Wars gaming as a whole. He even goes on to mention one of the games I said above, “We need to do with this what [Batman: Arkham Asylum] did for the Batman license.” If they can truly follow up on that ideal to strive for, and “…come up with games where peoples’ jaws drop,” we’re going to be in for some great gaming.

Yuuzhan VongYes, not all games are going to be like the ones I’ve mentioned above (I know, since I play my fair share), but going forward Star Wars games should be better policed to fit within new canon and they’ll benefit from that focus. Under EA’s ever watchful eye, the developers of the upcoming games also benefit from the company’s money and ability to allow time for full game development, something that hasn’t been present in the past resulting in some subpar experiences (KOTOR 2, TFUII). So while my dreams of blasting Vong out into the cold vacuum of space have to stay just that, I’m sure the eventual alternatives will more than make up for it.

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth

OTHER BUTLER CONFESSIONS
Choice Isn’t an Option: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 1)
Always On The Move: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 2)
A Good Blaster At Your Side: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 3)
Star Wars Netflix Hopes: The Rule of Two
Star Wars Ring Theory: An Interview with the Author, Mike Klimo, and Why You Should Read It
Chutes, Shafts, and Sinkholes: Star Wars and the Descent into the Underworld Mytheme
With New Eyes: The EU Reboot Changed How I View Ep. VI
The Great Reboot of 2100: Just How Evergreen is Star Wars?
Preserving the Mystery of In-Universe History