It took me over a year to get to this game. While Star Wars is one of my absolute favorite pieces of media, the fandom is one of the nastiest that we’ve ever come across. I’m deeply entrenched in it but I’ve had to have larger conversations with myself about what these stories are as a whole. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order embraces mostly the good aspects of this, telling a archetypal story that feels totemic and yet gets lost in the trappings of nostalgia.
Our story is that of Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan), a Jedi Padawan that is in hiding five years after the Purge. When he is discovered by Second Sister (Elizabeth Grullón), the boy flees with former Jedi Cere Junda (Debra Wilson) and Greez Dritus (Daniel Roebuck) to hunt down a holocron before the Imperial Inquisitor can locate it. As is tradition, he meets many friends and enemies along the way and some just might become part of his makeshift family.
Oh, and BD-1 is awesome and he’s going to be my new best friend. We’re meeting for drinks on Saturday.
Right off the bat I was enamored with the gameplay. I’m a huge fan of the old “Metroidvania” style of gaming, the regular exploration and expansion of areas, and I caught on quick to this format. Combining that with near Mortal Kombat-esque button combos for attacks and everything seems to be coming up roses.
You get to use these controls in a luscious, fully realized set of environments that add to the cinematic feeling of the game. Star Wars is, at its heart, a film series. While many video games and television shows have tried to replicate the awe-inspiring sensation you feel sitting in the theatre, this is the closest I’ve felt to that magical nirvana. During the COVID-19 pandemic I was lucky enough to see a few movies (always carefully, with masking and social distancing in place) and one of them was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This game brought me right back to that seat in the dark, a thoroughly glorious moment that felt right for such a bright and brilliant franchise. Full worlds are lusciously realized, open and interactive between the metal and the mush. Star Wars has long held to the strangeness in the idea that we can step out of a highly mechanized, Imperialist environment to a native jungle and we’re deeply entrenched in that here.
But that brings me to some of my issues, the worst of which is nostalgia. I grew up while the prequel trilogy was coming out, a deeply controversial slate of films that aren’t all that good. Many of my generation are now fully grown and have a deep love for these stories, which I’m in support of (like what you fuckin’ like, you know?). This does, however, bring about the question of whether or not these things needed to be included in an in-betweener plot. Here I sit, deeply torn on the issue, and the answer is “sort of.” Kashyyk appearing is something I’m in favor of; a world that has deep ties to the series and is so gorgeous to look at absolutely belongs here. Does Saw Gerrera, a character that is tied to the Clone Wars television series and the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, need to be there? Hell no, and in fact if you were to attempt to grok that character’s appearance without having consumed a random episode of a television show or a spinoff movie it would just be distracting. Does Dathomir, a world that has a deep lore that involves using the Force as magic need to be here? No, but a character that comes out of that thread is quite endearing and so it gets a partial pass. I’m sick of nostalgia and callbacks in Star Wars, especially since it seems to have become the signature stroke of the series as a brand. There are ways to properly weaponize it and ways to fail, and this game does both at the same time. I got lost in the grandeur of it while playing, only to sit back and wonder why I cared later.
One special thing lies at the heart of this game and franchise, one even more important to it than nostalgia. Star Wars is, to me, all about creating a family. My own is cobbled together from people I knew in high school, relatives, people I’ve worked with, and a variety of others. Whether under Lucas or Disney, the franchise has always held this as a premier tenet of its existence and I appreciate that the game follows suit on this. We get a failed Jedi, a pilot that enjoys gardening, a Nightsister, and a Jedi Padawan coming together to love one another and support each other with or without a mission. It’s so charming, but very different in dynamic from anything we’ve gotten in the universe before. I’ve longed for this blurring of dark and light in to grey when it comes to the Jedi, and the idea of a dark side witch hanging out with a fallen Jedi and a Padawan that likes in-universe industrial emo music is just the thing to scratch that itch.
Look, I love this game. I love almost all of the Star Wars content I’ve gotten, with tons to look forward to. That said…we need to call it out on its flaws. The nostalgia buttons can be used properly, but it gets clunky when they are deployed without proper consideration. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order contains both the best and worst of the franchise, but there’s definitely less of the latter and it made for an exciting experience. The frustrating parts are gleefully glossed over with exploration, character study, and exciting action. I love this game and I hope we get more of Cal Kestis’s family in the future.