Jedi Survivor Is a Rare Star Wars Story That Doesn’t Demand Your Nostalgia
Jedi: Survivor offers new hope to Star Wars fans tired of having their nostalgia exploited.
In the last decade, we have “enjoyed” an onslaught of new Star Wars media. As tempting as it is to try to summarize this new era of Star Wars with a blanket critical statement, it’s challenging to actually do so. Some new Star Wars adventures have been excellent, some have been forgettable, and some have been shockingly bad. Of course, few can ever seem to agree on which adventures are which.
However, I think the one thing that unites so many recent Star Wars stories is “nostalgia.” From the moment the first Force Awakens trailer was released, it became clear that our memories of Star Wars were now hard currency. That’s been true of many post-original trilogy releases to some degree, but this era is a bit different.
There was always an understanding that many of us harbored at least some positive feelings toward the Star Wars franchise. Now, though, it sometimes seems like those feelings are being openly exploited. The Star Wars stories that don’t outright demand knowledge of the franchise to be fully understood sometimes use our feelings as a form of peer pressure. “If you don’t like this, then are you sure you like Star Wars?” they almost dare to ask.
That’s a big part of the reason why Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is so easy to love despite its numerous technical issues. It’s that rare piece of modern Star Wars media that doesn’t demand your love of Star Wars. Instead, it shows why so many have found it so easy to fall in love with Star Wars in the first place.
As the sequel to 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order, Survivor is obviously somewhat dependent on the events of its predecessor. You can watch an in-game recap if you need to get caught up, though it’s fair to say that those who played the first game will get more out of certain moments, plot points, and characters. Furthermore, Jedi: Survivor still utilizes a lot of familiar Star Wars concepts. Jedi, lightsabers, certain alien designs, familiar sound cues…Jedi: Survivor doesn’t rewrite the book of Star Wars. If you are a Star Wars fan on any level, you will recognize many of its ideas and get more out of them because of that.
However, Jedi: Survivor doesn’t demand your nostalgia like it’s hitting you up for lunch money. There’s no invisible host subliminally saying “C’mon kids, let’s go see what our friend Obi-Wan is up to!” like he’s conducting a show for toddlers. References aren’t cheaply thrown around to patronize you for knowing about a foundational piece of pop culture history. For the most part, the reasons why you should care about Survivor are found within Survivor. This isn’t a story that exists to bridge gaps in the timeline or enhance an existing piece of property; it’s the story of its protagonist, Cal Kestis.
And what a story it is. I’ll avoid every spoiler I can for this article, but the thing that struck me about Survivor is what a fantastic adventure it is.
Much like how The Mandalorian found success tapping into Star Wars‘ Western roots, Survivor gleefully explores the franchise’s other notable inspirations. The game’s setpieces are the kind of pulse-pounding spectacles designed to spiritually resemble the kinds of serial adventures that also inspired the Indiana Jones films. The characters, meanwhile, all feel pulled from the most essential samurai stories. They’re battle-weary warriors who are constantly forced to balance duty vs. their own humanity. All the while, the looming threat of an evil empire leaves them fearing like their best efforts are simply the desperate gasps of fighters who don’t know how to do anything but fight.
It’s not all original in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a breath of fresh air for Star Wars. In my interview with the Jedi: Survivor team, Cinematic Director Dori Arazi mentioned that he never really considered the phrase “uniquely Star Wars” when it comes to the game’s storytelling. I think I now understand what he meant. Survivor isn’t a story that only works in the Star Wars universe. It’s a fundamentally thrilling adventure that is enhanced by Star Wars.
In that sense, the piece of Star Wars media that Survivor reminded me of most was the Thrawn Trilogy. Those books gleefully utilized legacy characters and plot devices, but, much like Survivor, they treated them with respect without ever relying on them more than what was necessary. Maybe you started reading those books to find out what happens to Luke, Leia, and Han, but names like Thrawn and Mara Jade soon stole your attention and your heart. In the same way, you may go into Survivor looking for tasty bits of lore morsels, but you’ll walk away from it wanting to know what happens to Cal Kestis and not what all of this has to do with Luke Skywalker.
So much of modern media is structured like a twisted capitalistic version of The Human Centipede. Audiences are sewn together by nostalgia and force-fed a steady drip of IP. Out of the other end comes the easiest money studios will ever make. Star Wars has become something of a poster child for the fiscal benefits and creative compromises of that system. No matter the missteps, millions are waiting to be hooked up to the feeding tube once more. Positive criticism can enhance Star Wars‘ success, but no amount of negative criticism can seemingly stop the franchise from remaining a cornerstone of the pop culture economy.
The greatest compliment I can give Jedi: Survivor is that it seems to have been made by those who dared to say “You should enjoy this Star Wars adventure if you weren’t pre-determined to love it the second you heard ‘Star Wars adventure.'” Like Andor and The Mandalorian before it, it’s a piece of the modern Star Wars media landscape that isn’t inseparable from the rest of the franchise but stands out as something you can sit down with and enjoy on its own terms.
Yes, that means it will also probably give weary and warry Star Wars fans that excuse they may or may not be looking for to remain hopeful that the next piece of Star Wars media will make them feel that old familiar feeling. Ultimately, though, Survivor is a reminder that nothing is inherently great because it’s Star Wars but there is still so much greatness to be found in Star Wars.