When Luke Skywalker appeared in the final moments of The Mandalorian season two finale and proceeded to slice his way through Moff Gideon’s Dark Troopers, my boys freaked out. It started as soon as that X-wing landed on Gideon’s ship: “Is it? No way… Wait a minute… It’s him!” From that point on, there was nothing but screams and jumping all over the couch.
It was the sort of moment that geek parents like myself long for our kids to experience. And if the tweets and Facebook comments that I saw were any indication, my sons were far from alone in their excitement.
My own response was a little cooler, though.
I know that makes me sound like a spoilsport, but to be clear, I completely understand why my boys, and so many others, got so hyped by Luke’s appearance. And I would never begrudge anyone for the thrill they felt at his subsequent kick-assery. What’s more, Mark Hamill’s responses to fan reactions were quite a joy in their own right.
However, Luke’s appearance is part of a larger problem that I’ve had with Star Wars following both the criticism of The Last Jedi’s temerity to challenge the franchise status quo and The Rise of Skywalker’s underwhelming resolution to the Skywalker saga. Specifically, that the galaxy far, far away is turning out to be a much smaller place than I previously thought.
In an article titled “Has The Mandalorian Succumbed to the Dark Side?,” Matt Zoller Seitz describes the problem thusly:
It’s hard to capture in words the galaxy-collapsing shortsightedness of requiring that every new Star Wars tale ultimately connect, however tangentially, with the same handful of genetically linked characters. Star Wars’ bizarre obsession with Force-amplifying, midi-chlorian-rich blood, and the proximity of “regular” characters to those with special blood, makes Lucas’s galaxy far, far away — a place so vast that you need hyperspace to cross it — feel as rinky-dink as a backwater American town, the kind of place where everybody is required to kiss the same local family’s butt for survival’s sake. Every time a Star Wars story genuflects to the Skywalker saga yet again, Lucas’s mythos shrinks further in the collective imagination.
In other words, whenever a Star Wars title includes yet another reference to the Skywalker family or literally resurrects the old and familiar (e.g., Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker), then the Star Wars universe as a whole risks losing some scale. Every time it trades solely in nostalgia (which can so easily lead to the dark side of fan service) or constrains itself to what’s already well-established, then that distant galaxy gets a little less epic. Seitz again:
Thus does the galactic rim in the post-Civil War era — thrillingly envisioned by Favreau and his Mandalorian writers as a science-fiction fusion of two related genres, the spaghetti Western and the samurai adventure — pivot without warning toward insularity. Thus does a great character like Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarin — an orphan who adopted a fundamentalist interpretation of Mandalorian self-identity and a genocide survivor who feels kinship with members of the Alderaan diaspora — become a mere extra upon the cosmic stage, fascinating not because of how he practices or compromises his beliefs but because he briefly met the dude who faced down Vader and the Emperor. And thus Grogu, a member of the same species as Yoda, becomes worthy of our attention not because he’s a case study in nature and nurture — possessing dark and light impulses and open to manipulation and corruption by vile tricksters like Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) — but because Luke deemed him important enough to rescue. He has a special purpose, you see. Not like all those other gifted kids throughout the galaxy who need a parent to guide them toward the light.
Arguably, the main selling point of The Mandalorian was that it took elements of what we already knew about Star Wars and used them as a starting point from which to explore entirely new characters, worlds, and stories that lay just beyond the usual plots and tropes. The Mandalorian used the familiar to expand upon it, making the Star Wars universe feel a little bigger and more mysterious — until Luke and his green lightsaber arrived on the scene, that is, and everything got a little smaller again.
But shortly after watching The Mandalorian season finale, I began playing Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and there, I experienced the sort of epic-ness that always gets me excited for the Star Wars universe time and again.
Note: The following contains potential spoilers for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
In Fallen Order, you play Cal Kestis, a former Padawan who survived the Jedi purge of Order 66 thanks to his Jedi Master’s self-sacrifice. While eking out an existence as a scrapper on the junkyard planet Bracca, he’s forced to go on the run when Imperial Inquisitors discover his identity. After being rescued by a former Jedi named Cere Junda and the starship Stinger Mantis, Cal agrees to join her quest to retrieve a Jedi Holocron containing information that could restore the Jedi Order.
To be sure, you’ll spend plenty of time in Fallen Order carving up stormtroopers with your lightsaber and Force powers, which you learn and develop throughout the game. (For what it’s worth, I found using “Force Pull” to grab distant enemies, yank them over, and then impale them on your lightsaber to be very effective.) But while that’s fun and all, the real fun in Fallen Order lies in all of the exploration that you must do.
In order to retrieve the aforementioned Holocron, Cal must retrace the journey of Jedi Master Eno Cordova, who was fascinated by an ancient Force-sensitive civilization called the Zeffo. To do so, you’ll travel to several planets in the galaxy. Some are already well established in the canon, like the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk and Dathomir, the birthplace of Darth Maul. But you also travel to hidden and unknown worlds, including Bogano, an uninhabited planet that was once home to a Zeffo colony, and the Zeffo homeworld itself, a windswept place filled with ancient, majestic ruins.
Fallen Order is not a perfect game. The visuals and animation are surprisingly lackluster at times (on my Xbox One S, anyway). The controls can be finicky to the point of outrage — especially when squaring off against annoying Purge Troopers or attempting to swing from rope to rope over one of the many bottomless pits that seem to be everywhere in the Star Wars galaxy. And you spend a lot of time collecting upgrades for your lightsaber, droid, etc., that are purely cosmetic and do nothing to actually help you.
But in its best moments — e.g., using Force-enhanced parkour and free climbing to explore the abandoned Zeffo colony on Bogano — Fallen Order evokes something approaching a sense of awe and wonder. There were moments while wondering through Bogano’s quiet, abandoned ruins when I was reminded of the mystery and atmosphere found in the classic Myst and Riven games (albeit with the addition of lightsabers and faithful droid companions).
My own sleep deprivation might have played a factor, as I usually played the game late at night after my kids had gone to bed. But I finished more than one Fallen Order session almost giddy as I thought about ancient ruins and vanished civilizations or imagined myself zipping across the galaxy to another unknown world aboard a cramped-yet-sturdy vessel like the Stinger Mantis.
Given that it’s set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Fallen Order contains plenty of familiar ideas, concepts, and characters. You’re still battling the Empire with a lightsaber and the Force, you hang out with Wookiees, you’ve got a cute little droid companion who speaks in bleeps and bloops, and some recognizable names and faces (e.g., Saw Gerrera, Jocasta Nu, a certain Dark Lord of the Sith) pop up here and there.
But Fallen Order is a good example of how to take the familiar and use it as a means to an end, i.e., telling a broader, more vast story that adds to the existing universe instead of simply remaining beholden to it.
Fallen Order certainly expands upon existing Star Wars lore with everything you learn about the Zeffo civilization, additional insights into the fate of the Jedi post-Order 66, and some promising new characters like Merrin, a Dathomirian Nightsister. And when certain familiar faces do appear, the game helps expand upon what we already knew about them.
But Fallen Order also uses the familiar to explore weightier topics like PTSD and survivor’s guilt. Both Cal and Cere must wrestle with the trauma of having survived Order 66 as well as the sacrifices and compromises that they’ve made in order to evade the Empire. While this adds drama and makes the characters more interesting, it also adds weight and substance to the Empire’s regime of terror and the damage that it’s caused — and to the efforts to eventually overthrow it.
At the game’s end, you successfully retrieve the Holocron, which contains a list of Force-sensitive children located throughout the galaxy. Cere had hoped that this list would represent a new generation of Jedi to stand against the Empire. But after everything he’s seen and experienced, Cal opts to destroy the Holocron instead, ensuring that the Empire can’t track the children down and kill them (or worse, turn them into Inquisitors) while entrusting their fates to the Force — thus filling the galaxy with the potential for numerous (as yet) untold stories and adventures à la The Last Jedi’s “broom boy” ending.
With all of its critical and commercial success — solid reviews and more than 10 million units sold by March 31, 2020 — a Fallen Order sequel is all but inevitable. There are several things that could make a sequel even better (e.g., improved controls, more useful upgrades, better story arcs for secondary characters). But above all else, I hope that any sequel maintains the original Fallen Order’s approach to using what’s familiar about Star Wars.
Like the classic Knights of the Old Republic games, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order provides a new lens through which to see Star Wars. It contains new lore and developments that make the galaxy a bigger place even as it casts some familiar things in a new light. And it does all of this with nary a mention of the Skywalker clan — proving that the galaxy far, far away can, indeed, possess plenty of room for original and exciting characters and stories.