In the days leading up to the release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, we take a step into the larger world of Star Wars by examining the novels, games, comics, albums, TV series and audio dramas that have fed our imaginations over the years. Some of these you may be aware of and some you won’t, but regardless we hope that you seek out some of these works and give them the appreciation they deserve. May the Force be with you.
Nearly two years ago in movie theaters far, far away Star Wars returned to our screens with Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Loyal Monkeys Fighting Robots readers will remember we ran a series of articles in the lead up to the film’s release highlighting some of gems in the wider Star Wars canon. Now in anticipation of Episode VII: The Last Jedi, it is our pleasure to bring you The 12 Days of Star Wars 2017. We begin our retrospective on all things with a look at a modern video-game classic in The Force Unleashed.
The Republic has fallen. The Jedi are no more. The Dark Side shrouds everything. There is only one law: the Empire. This time period between Episodes III and IV is known to fans across the world as “The Dark Times”. First mentioned by Tatooine’s resident crazy old wizard: Ben Kenobi, this era of the Star Wars franchise was a breeding ground for much of the early expanded universe novels and games. As LucasFilm began to delve more into the Clone Wars/prequel era, the focus switched the days before (or in the case of Knights of the Old Republic, long before). Throughout the franchise’s resurgence in the early 2000s, many younger fans had not experienced an adventure set in the 19 years or so of Emperor Palpatine’s rule. In the years following the release of Revenge of the Sith, rumours and concept art started emerging that hinted at a very different kind of Star Wars experience. In 2008, Lucasarts released Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and our perceptions of the saga were shaken to their very core.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was the story of Galen Marek aka Starkiller: the secret apprentice of Darth Vader himself. Marek was the surviving son of Jedi slain right in front of him by the Emperor’s loyal enforcer during the great purge. Even as a boy, he showed himself to be in tune with the Force, disarming Vader as the cyborg strangled the boy’s father. Perhaps the Dark Lord of the Sith saw something of himself in him, a remnant of the man that was Anakin Skywalker, or maybe it was pure ambition. Whatever the reason, Vader abducted the boy and trained him in the Dark Side of the Force proving that the Rule of Two was more of a guideline than anything else. Honing him like a precision instrument, Vader sent his assassin to hunt down any remaining Jedi that dared to defy the Empire. It was on this journey that Starkiller met the elderly Jedi, Rahm Kota, and the love of his life, Juno Eclipse. It was a journey that would see Vader’s acolyte question his convictions and find himself tempted towards the Light Side. Starkiller would eventually shed that title and reassert himself as Galen Marek. In an act of self-sacrifice, Marek confronted his former master and nearly brought an end to the Emperor’s regime. Although lost to the nether-realm of the force, his death inspired inspired the very rebellion that he once vowed to destroy from within. The Alliance would honour his memory by taking his family symbol as their own.
Starkiller had a skill and knowledge of the Force that eclipsed anything that we had seen on screen. Powerful beyond imagination, this destructive understanding of the force informed the gameplay as much as it did the story. Previous Star Wars games featuring Force-users tended to focus on the Jedi as a Knight with your powers only being of secondary concern. In the Force Unleashed your skills with a lightsaber would only ever get you so far. If you wanted to experience everything the game had to offer, you had to channel your inner sorcerer more so than your inner swordsman. Whereas Sith lightning had in the past been a mere annoyance, in Starkiller’s hands it was if the very storm itself had submitted to his will. Stormtroopers and droids alike were rag-dolls before your might. Lucasarts used the Havok engine to imbue the game with a realistic physics engine that gave your every act weight. Each Force blast and manipulation felt earned, it took its toll not only on you, but the world too. This philosophy is exemplified in the game’s most iconic scene, where through his will alone, Starkiller rips a Star Destroyer from a planet’s atmosphere and crashes it into the Empire’s base. It is a scene that will forever remain etched into every Star Wars fan’s collective consciousness.
As tropey as the “secret apprentice” cliché may seem, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed turned out to be one of the last great hurrahs for the struggling Lucasarts after a number of years of dwindling popularity. It was a game about nature vs nurture and about destiny itself. There are some thematic parallels between his character and that of Kylo Ren, especially in the game’s Dark Side ending, but the influence of Galen Marek’s tale on the franchise has only begun to be seen. It was the story of a man struggling for whatever agency he could scrape together in a universe that wanted nothing more than turn him into a tool of one side of the Force or the other. Marek was raised to be a weapon, but he found peace in being able to die as a man. The less said about the sequel the better.