Star Wars is only a couple years shy from being 40. Over the course of these nearly four decades, this property has grown from a space opera with relatively unknown actors to the premier science fiction franchise. The franchise has accomplished a lot too with the films alone grossing more than $4 billion, the fifth highest in history. Of course, Star Wars extends far beyond the movies into nearly every medium imaginable. You’d be hard pressed to find something that Star Wars isn’t already a part of by this point. Yet somehow, the brand still finds a way to break new ground when it comes to giving the public what they want. As of April 10th, a galaxy far, far away is available on various streaming services for the very first time (legally).
This is, of course, a very huge deal. Why it took so long for Star Wars to hit the digital landscape is beyond me, but it’s clear that a massive wrong was righted. These films are sci-fi at its best and deserve to be as available as possible. They are cultural touchstones, no matter how much you disliked the prequel trilogy. As enjoyable as the films are though, the continued success of Star Wars, and the fact that these digital releases are so newsworthy, stems from the sprawling creations that these big screen adaptations birthed. Star Wars isn’t just six movies (with more coming!) that collectively make cinema’s finest epic space drama. It’s a massive sprawling identity that is nearly all-consuming. Like I said before, there truly isn’t much that this brand hasn’t already struck. Video games especially are a well-explored medium that have permitted Star Wars to become the inescapable phenomenon that it is today.
It’s almost insane how perfect Star Wars is for video game production. The epic battles and locales featured in A New Hope alone are enough to generate plenty of material for virtual adventures. In fact, the grandiose elements of this franchise were definitely way too advanced for the times. There was no way anything released in the early 80s could properly capture the scale set forth by the first three movies. This is why when Star Wars first popped up on Atari consoles back in 1982 with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, it only captured the look of brand. Truly, this was all that could have been done at the time. The video game industry was in its infancy and simply could not reach cinematic levels (no one expected it to, honestly).
As video games boomed with popularity and technology advanced, developers slowly caught up with what was previously dished out on screen. More and more games became available of course, and quality quickly rose. The shift was fairly noticeable too. Beginning around the early-to-mid 90s, Star Wars titles began exploring the film’s in more detail and with greater scope. Star Wars: X-Wing on the PC was a critically successful series that gave consumers an early, but still well-made, look into the franchise’s signature space battles. It also had the monumental job of showing people that you didn’t need to follow the films exactly to keep consumer interest. Plenty still did though, and games like Super Star Wars for the Super Nintendo were able to bring the movie’s to life like never before.
Now we’re at that point where Star Wars has transcended its fairly humble beginnings to become a rich tapestry for anyone to pull ideas from. It’s fairly common for games to not even come close to what was previously established, choosing instead to expand on the lore as opposed to repeating it. This is by far the industry’s greatest gift to this franchise. So much has been created over the years that it’s a shame a significant portion of it isn’t considered canon anymore. Take a look at the Jedi Knight series which explored a post-Return of the Jedi universe. That’s now completely irrelevant thanks to The Force Awakens. Going back as far as possible in the timeline, you have The Knights of the Old Republic Series which takes places centuries before any of the movies. These have little to do with the Star Wars casual viewers know about, but they make the property that much richer.
It’s no secret that I am a massive Star Wars fan. Even though I’m not at the level of those who have read every expanded universe novel, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed many of the games. My memory is a bit foggy on what my very first virtual experience was, but I’m reasonably certain 1998’s Rogue Squadron holds that claim. This was easily one of my favorite games for the Nintendo 64. Flying around in the X-Wing, Y-Wing, Snowspeeder, and even the Millennium Falcon was a dream come true. As for games that feature the franchise’s big stars, 2000’s Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles on the PlayStation was the first one I owned. Sure it was tied to the most panned movie in the series, and didn’t exactly get the best reviews, but I loved it all the same. Perhaps finally being able to play as Obi-Wan Kenobi allowed me to overlook the game’s faults. Knights of the Old Republic and Battlefront, however, are still my all time favorites.
Star Wars is a media franchise unlike any other. It has long since broken the shackles of the films to evolve into this massive universe that spans centuries. Putting the six major story pieces on streaming services was an inevitability as this brand is too popular to ignore. As we inch ever closer to the seventh film and the property gets even older, it’s easy to see how much Star Wars has benefited from branching out into other forms. We care about it because we’ve experienced so much of the history first hand. Video games have, and always will, play a major role in this. Even though LucasArts is now closed and Disney completely owns the entire property, games will keep coming that give us more than what we see on screen.
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.