When It was announced to the world that Disney was making a high profile business acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, and would be making more movies to follow on Return of the Jedi, with a spin-off movie every other year, meaning we’d be getting a new Star Wars movie every year until the end of time. Well, needless to say, people were excited. I actually experenced hype overload and started to resent the franchise. But that’s because I’m a giant petty child.
An actual reason for me to be upset about Disney breathing new life into the mainstream Star Wars franchise was because it came at the expense of the greater Expanded Universe. An EU that book writers, video games devs and comic book artists had spend the previous 30-odd years building on. I was neck deep in the expanded universe, picking up and pouring through as many of the novels as I could. I mean sure, they were mostly pretty badly written and kind of pandering to the fans. But they were also pretty forward thinking in how they wrote a lot of their characters and the themes they dealt with, especially the older entires.
All of that was put to an end when The Force Awakens came out. It scrubbed away all of the lore that didn’t fall under the pre-aproved umbrella of Disney’s creative vision. While Disney brought new life to what was very fringe franchise at that point, not a lot of what they put out was especially ambitious, at least in the mainstream. The Force Awakens itself, while a serviceable and entertaining movie, it pretty much a retelling of a New Hope.
They are capable of doing good with their newly acquired property though. What I’ve seen of the animated Clone War and Rebels series have gotten surprisingly dark for what is primarily a kids series depicting war and fighting against an oppressive government. I was more shocked than anyone when I started playing the campaign for Battlefront II and realised how much like the old Expanded Universe it was. The story follows Iden Versio; the leader of an elite Imperial special forces unit during the last days of the Empire.
What intrigued me so much during these early stages was how it focused entirely on Versio and her group. Giving an alternative perspective to the classic story. For the most part, Versio and her crew weren’t bad people. They believed they were on the good side of this war, protecting the rightful government from a violent terrorist movement.
It reminded me a whole lot of some of the later Expanded Universe books I’d read. Ones that didn’t delve into the flashy, high profile stories of the movies, but fleshed out the inner workings of a large and tangled galaxy. It reminded me Karen Traviss’s Republic Commando series, which told stories of the Clone Wars through the eyes of various clones fighting on the ground, how they perceived the Jedi they served with and how individualised themselves, despite being clones. These stories don’t feature any characters people only familiar with the movies would recognise, except in passing mentions, but fleshed out the world. It was the same reason I enjoyed the Mass Effect games so much, creating a huge, working science fiction world is hard, but throughout all the expanded universe media, it was easy to form this galaxy in your mind.
One of her final books; Order 66 gave a unique perspective from the opposite point of view of the Jedi Extermination at the end of Revenge of the Sith. They weren’t all happy about it, but they followed orders. In that same thread, another book comes to mind.
Death Star, by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry remains one of my favourite of the old Star Wars novels. It follows a collection of Imperial characters who served on the Death Star right up until its destruction. Giving us a peer into the minds of people who want to defend the technological marvel they’ve build, but also into the mind of the man who pulled the trigger that destroyed a planet.
I would have been surprised if Battlefront II got anywhere this deep into character study territory, but at the early stages of the game it feels like it might go there. The first handful of missions deal with Versio and her crew dealing with the fallout of the destruction of the second Death Star, as well as the death of the Emperor. The Empire is losing and are making last grasps for anything that can help them turn the tide. It had a lot of potential and a lot of different directions the story could have pursued, however things start to fall apart relatively quickly. Despite many years of service, Versio comes to a sudden conclusion that the Empire might kind of evil. She makes passing comments claiming her command are incompetent or arrogant to the point of not taking the enemy seriously, but doesn’t seem to have an issue with her actions until very suddenly.
During a counter Op called Operation Cinder, the player is tasked with descending to the planet Vardos to extract an important individual. All while repurposed satellites in orbit create vicious lightnings storms that will destroy the city. There are a lot of cool visuals in this level, and it’s really the last good original stage in the game. After not being allowed to extract some civilians along with the VIP, Versio and one of her team are suddenly branded traitors to the Empire and proceed to escape the planet with a bunch of civilians as the city crumbles around them.
After this point, her and fellow trooper Del Meeko find themselves fighting for the Rebellion all of a sudden. And while Shriv is a great world weary, sarcastic asshole of a character, the whole thing feels like a missed opportunity. It’s at this point the game becomes something of a greatest hits of the Star Wars Universe. Pretty much every stage is some memorable local from the movies. Theed, Cloud City, the two new planets from The Force Awakens. I understand people aren’t going to be as interested in playing on some obscure planet in multiplayer maps, and generating assets for use in only one part of the game is a waste of manpower. But I end up feeling like I’m on Star Tours rather than following Iden’s journey of leaving her father and the Empire.
While the start of the story has you learning about Iden and Del as characters, the game suddenly makes a shift and has you playing every other mission as Han, Leia, Lando and Luke. It becomes really predictable and ends on a bit of a wet fart and an undeserved romantic moment. I could have seen this story going in a number of more creative and interesting directions: Have Iden realise the Empire is bad and start running covert counter operations to stop the evil of the Empire while also campaigning for the new leadership to treat its people less oppressively. Try to change the Empire from within rather than straight up abandon it.
if you really needed her to join the rebellion then have her do it in secret while still running the facade of performing missions as the Empire’s best special forces unit. I know I’m expecting a lot of a EA published, DICE made competitive shooter. But the way the game opens gave me a real flashback of the old Expanded Universe I enjoyed so much and it got my hopes up.
It does seem like there are going to be additional chapters released as free DLC which will continue the campaign in the coming months, but my hopes have already been dashed at this point. I can’t help but feel these are going to be little more than advertisements for their DLC characters like Phasma and Finn rather than any meaningful continuation of the story.
I was never under any delusion that this was going to be a very mainstream Star Wars game, aimed at the Call of Duty and Battlefield crowd. But those games have gone weird with their campaigns, despite nobody seeming to ever play them. I feel like this game was held back by Disney’s vision for the franchise now its in their hands, not wanting them to do anything that could conflict with their future multi million dollar movie franchise.
I just miss the wild west of the old Expanded Universe, when writers could waft something under George Lucas’s nose and he would generally approve it. Despite all my complaints, I’m still under the thumb of EA and Disney, because they’ve made a good looking and good sounding Star Wars game. I’ll still play the new campaign missions, but I’ll be surprised if they produce anything groundbreaking from this point on, I’ve had my little flight of fantasy and now I’m crashing back down to earth.
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