Two visions for the future of “Star Wars” arrived this week, one via streaming service Disney+ and another for major video game platforms. “The Mandalorian” takes steps — if not fully forward, definitely sideways — toward a rogue rather than a hero and, at least at the start, puts the less savory aspects of a war-torn, fairy-tale galaxy front and center.
“Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order,” on the other hand, relies heavily on old standbys — cringe-inducing, hokey dialogue and a Jedi on a journey. There is lots of planet-hopping, plenty of creatures — insects that explode into fire, reptiles with adhesive tongues — and a bevy of Stormtrooper classes, which while not always easy to kill are never remotely smart. We even get a glimpse into Stormtrooper life, overhearing one profess his love for rest and leisure and others express fear at interacting with intergalactic wildlife. Our lightsaber shows no sympathy however.
“Jedi: Fallen Order” also gives us the first proper action-adventure “Star Wars” game in close to a decade and the first full narrative-focused “Star Wars” game to arrive under Electronic Arts’ stewardship of the storied Lucasfilm brand. “Fallen Order” comes to us from local studio Respawn Entertainment, best known of late for its “Fortnite” competitor “Apex Legends” as well as “Titanfall,” a game that sought to refine the video game shooter. In that sense, “Fallen Order” is something of a departure for the studio, bringing to its arsenal a game that leans heavily on lessons learned from the “Uncharted” and “Tomb Raider” franchises.
Respawn, said company founder Vince Zampella earlier this year, was “kind of typecast.”
“Like, we’re the multiplayer shooter guys,” he said. “Obviously that does interest me, but that’s not all that interests me. I had a natural desire to do something different, to prove that we are gamers and to do something experiential.” Under the direction of Stig Asmussen (“God of War III”), “Fallen Order” makes the smart but challenging choice to dispense with the blasters and focus on wielding a lightsaber, which naturally leads to a game that’s largely about traversing and discovering new planets.
In a way, it feels somewhat old-fashioned, in part because it offers plenty of fortune cookie “Star Wars” wisdom — try not to roll your eyes at life lessons (obstacles that are “in the way become the way”) and contrast that with “The Mandalorian’s” bounty-hunting murder droids — and in part because “Fallen Order” for much of its game puts the emphasis on exploration and environmental puzzles.
While there’s plenty of action and convoluted combat, especially on harsher difficulty settings, the moments I enjoyed most from “Fallen Order” were those in which I spent hours using Force powers to move giant spheres around ancient tombs to trigger moving platforms and hidden passageways. There’s also lots of ice, which exists for our Jedi to more or less go sledding, recalling at times the action-arcade games of yore.
This is all rather pleasant and charming, and especially appealing is the pet-like droid BD-1, who hops on the shoulder of our Jedi protoganist Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan). This seems like the right tone for a story that we know going in won’t be a galaxy-shaping tale. Set before Luke Skywalker discovers a lightsaber but after the events of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” at a time when the Jedi are hunted and being eliminated by evil Imperial forces, “Fallen Order” is a story of survival, the small sacrifices and personal acts of heroism one can make in dire times.
That sounds relatively dark, and while there are times “Fallen Order” gets serious, especially as it hurtles toward its conclusion, the game is relatively lighthearted, even brisk. We see creatures trying to tear apart a Stormtrooper body, but it isn’t really gross. While we visit Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk and see the Wookiees harshly imprisoned, this isn’t a game that lingers on such atrocities.
Instead, it’s a game where a Resistance fighter will raise her arm and shout that they should all go kill some “Imps,” which I assume is short for Imperial soldiers, unless there’s some “Star Wars” term I am unfamiliar with (it’s possible, as “Fallen Order” is loaded with words like “splox” and “phillak” and a crucial plot point involves understanding the ways of the Holocron, which those who don’t speak “Star Wars” will simply know as the toys you buy at Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge).
We first meet Cal on a planet called Bracca, where he’s barely getting by scrapping old ships for cash. His Force powers are repressed, until he uses them to save a friend’s life, thus attracting the attention of the Imperial army and sending Cal on the run. With the help of some pals, including the Force-conflicted Cere Junda (Debra Wilson) and Greez Dritus (Daniel Roebuck), sort of a cross between a lizard and a ferret but with more humanoid qualities, Cal takes on the quest to rebuild the Jedi Order, which we know doesn’t happen due to the existence of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.”
No matter, along the way we hijack an AT-AT, those four-legged Imperial vehicles used in the Battle of Hoth in “The Empire Strikes Back,” learn to wield a lightsaber like a boomerang and use the Force to reshape environments, or simply pull and push enemies around like they’re action figures. While one can spend quite a bit of time mastering combat, I found it never gets tiring to stand in place and simply use the saber to reflect blaster fire right back at a Stormtrooper, usually seconds after he taunts us that we won’t survive our encounter with him.
Cal isn’t the most memorable “Star Wars” character, but Luke was also a bit goofy in “A New Hope.” Cal is less naive, and more of a standard-issue Jedi jock, although he also possesses an innate ability to play a guitar-like instrument. “Fallen Order” sometimes gives us the impression Cal isn’t very bright, especially in moments in which he uses the Force to detect what previously happened in an environment. We’ll watch as Cal takes a moment to meditate around bowls and plates to tell us this was likely a place where people had food.
But in these moments I never thought “Fallen Order” wasn’t smart itself. Instead, it felt like a nod back to “Star Wars” at its most silly and active. Like “A New Hope,” “Fallen Order” never stops introducing us to new vistas, encouraging us to visit them again and again to find new caverns and hidden pathways.
And while it’s true “Fallen Order” isn’t a monumental “Star Wars” story — it simply can’t be, as the core films must remain accessible enough to not require an expanded universe — the lack of weight serves “Fallen Order” well. “Star Wars,” it tells us, can simply aspire to be fun.
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC