Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a big deal. It’s already topped the gaming charts and, with the job of bridging the gap between the original films and the much-maligned prequels, it’s got quite a large chunk of responsibility on its polygonal shoulders.
In fact, the new game – out on practically every major format except for PC – is such a big deal that there’s even a tie-in novel. Written by Sean Williams and based on a story by Haden Blackman – who wrote the graphic novel – the plot is pretty dark for Star Wars.
Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the main character, Starkiller, has been tasked with travelling the galaxy and eliminating the Jedi who weren’t dispatched at the end of episode III, with the ultimate goal of assassinating the Emperor. It’s definitely a book that’s comfortable with the Dark Side of the Force.
It moves on at quite a pace, too – there’s little room for delicate plotting and exposition as Starkiller – and his pilot, the conflicted Juno Eclipse – traverse the galaxy to take out numerous pesky Jedi. While the plot may be relatively thin, though, the visual DNA of this book – it’s borne out of a game, after all, bear fruit in the many varied worlds that are enthusiastically brought to life. The vivid imagery used to describe The Force Unleashed’s semi-familiar world is, often, superb.
The action sequences are one of the highlights of The Force Unleashed, too, with Williams taking obvious pleasure from crafting epic lightsabre battles and frantic scenes of deadly combat throughout. There’s also a hefty amount of space combat thanks to the present of ace pilot Eclipse, who has been appointed to ferry Starkiller from one planet to the next to battle Jedi.
It’s Eclipse, though, who serves to highlight some of The Force Unleashed’s shortcomings. Like many other peripheral characters in the book, she’s rarely explored or given much to do beyond drive Starkiller’s story, and the few attempts to give her more depth – including an ill-advised romantic subplot between her and the supposedly cold and emotionless Sith – feel clunky, inappropriate and tacked-on.
In other areas, the video game origins of The Force Unleashed create uncomfortable results. The book is strictly linear, and it’s clear that the various episodes – one Jedi being killed after another, for instance – are merely the levels of the game, told on paper. It’s also pretty obvious that each Jedi represents a boss battle in the finished product.
This lack of depth is manifested elsewhere. As well as the linear and thinly-disguised plot, the characters are weak: Starkiller and Eclipse are the only two who are really paid any attention, and there’s little there to make you want to delve into their respective back stories.
The Force Unleashed, then, suffers from being a novel of a game. While the action and imagery are there – as they are, undoubtedly, in the game – the numerous problems put paid to any sustained enjoyment from The Force Unleashed. It may be a fun – if lightweight – adventure, but the weak, straight-forward plot and lack of memorable characters disappoint.