It been 24 hours and the Internet is still blowing up with the first ever teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fan art is already being created. That snazzy new lightsaber at the end is now a cause for debate. People are actually excited for a brand new Star Wars property for the first time in a while. Needless to say, November 28th was an amazing day for fans across the globe. The Force Awakens, despite having a name and a full cast, has something legitimately tangible for people to get behind. There truly is no going back from this now. For the first time in cinematic history, the Star Wars franchise is undoubtedly continuing past Return of the Jedi with brand new live action installments. It’s glorious.
With these new films comes a big price though. For the longest time, Return of the Jedi was where the official timeline ended. Everything that followed in the Expanded Universe (EU) was all fans could latch on to for the continuing adventures of their favorite characters and plenty of new ones. That’s the way we’ve had it for 30 years now. But since this entire pop culture phenomenon began with three films back in the late 70s/early 80s, and grew larger with three more films in the late 90s/early 2000s, it only made sense that this new trilogy determined the official fate of the EU. Unsurprisingly, that treasure trove of material is now completely non-canonical, meaning the only true official material is whatever Disney puts out under the Star Wars banner. This makes perfect sense to me, yet I don’t blame the devout fanbase from being upset. Most of the EU was dictated in novels so that’s usually what these people flock towards for criticism, but there were some games out there that dabbled in post-Return material. The most notable of this was the Jedi Knight series of games.
As with every piece of Star Wars material, Star Wars: Jedi Knight got its start thanks to content provided by the films. In the case of 1999’s Star Wars: Dark Forces, the first game of this series, A New Hope was the big focus. This is where we first met series protagonist Kyle Katarn, a Stormtrooper turned mercenary working for the Alliance who discovers plans for the Death Star. Obviously anyone who’s seen the movies knows what happens after Dark Forces ends. It’s with the 1997 sequel, Dark Forces II, that the series entered completely new territory. This was the moment Jedi Knight went past Return of the Jedi and began to explore the great beyond known as the EU. Dark Forces II saw Katarn become a Jedi and discover the true history behind his family. After succumbing to the Dark Side and being saved by EU fan favorite Mara Jade in Mysteries of the Sith, an expansion on Dark Forces II, Katarn gave up his force abilities and went back to being a New Republic mercenary in Jedi Knights II: Jedi Outcast. He later returns to the Jedi order and becomes a master, eventually taking on a young Padawan named Jaden Korr in Jedi Academy. It is with Jaden’s adventures in 2003 that the series has left off.
There are a few solid reasons why the Jedi Knight series has endured for fans of the franchise. The biggest of all is easily how ingrained in the EU the series actually is. It was through print that these brand new stories really game to life. The amount of now unofficial Star Wars novels is unbelievable. Most of the games, however, firmly planted themselves either during a film’s events, between them, or long before anything happened. The absolutely amazing Knights of the Old Republic takes place centuries before the anything else, for example, while Battlefront is based around the major events we saw on screen. Jedi Knight was different though. It broke out into the unknown future and began creating the it on its own terms. Luke Skywalker plays major role as the new Jedi Master of the rebuilt order, as does Cloud City Ambassador Lando Calrissian and a few others. New characters popped up, new stories were weaved, and Kyle Katarn became very popular on his own accord. Unlike almost every other game that was shackled to whatever the movies decided, Jedi Knight was free to do whatever.
Clearly the public was very accepting of this because the story was a huge point of praise. People got behind it wholeheartedly. Of course, it helped that the gameplay was incredibly enjoyable and provided an excellent balance. The series started off as a first person shooter but progressed to a first person/third person hybrid as lightsaber combat became a pivotal element. With Katarn, a notable blank slate, players were able to experience a growth very similar to Skywalker himself. Katarn only used blasters and various assault weapons when he was a wandering mercenary, but graduated to devoted lightsaber usage when he became more involved in his Jedi lineage. It was a healthy median that truly wasn’t seen again until Knights of the Old Republic several years later.
Seeing as I’m a lifelong fan of the Star Wars franchise, I have crossed paths with the Jedi Knight series. Unfortunately that’s the most I can say about it. A long time ago, I rented Jedi Outcast from my local video store and was really excited to enjoy some material that existed after the films ended. My lasting memory was how pumped I was to play as Jedi knight, only to be pretty confused when I had to use a blaster for a while. Graduating to the lightsaber was a big moment for me, but it wasn’t shortly after that I returned the game and never brought it back out. I truly have no idea why I never sought to experience the entire series despite all the praise. There’s no doubt that I’d absolutely love it Perhaps someday I’ll find a way to experience Jedi Knight now that I know none of this story actually has any bearing on the universe as a whole.
It’s a pretty safe assumption that Jedi Knight will not continue past Jedi Academy with this new trilogy completely ignoring the EU and creating its own material. These new movies now contain the officially sanctioned stories after all. But that doesn’t mean some concepts and characters can’t make appearances as a few Easter Eggs for those fans. Obviously Luke will be a Jedi master now, that’s a given. Even if the chances of this are slim, Abrams could decide to name a random extra Kyle Katarn. That could be the canon Katarn and not the non-canonical one created by LucasArts and Raven Software. Then again, I’m sure no one is asking for that. The Jedi Knight series is a perfectly fine “What If” for what could have happened once the second Death Star was destroyed. There’s no reason for that to change.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.