How Jedi: Fallen Order Emulates Past Star Wars Games

Electronic Arts' first truly story-focused game, Jedi: Fallen Order, looks awfully familiar.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order might finally be giving Star Wars fans what they want — a story-focused game set in the galaxy far, far away sans loot boxes — but it’s also impossible to ignore how familiar it looks. Scheduled for release this holiday, Jedi: Fallen Order is an action-adventure game developed by Respawn, makers of bouncy multiplayer shooters like Apex Legends and Titanfall.

You play as Cal Kestis, a Jedi apprentice on the run from the Empire in the days after Order 66. He’s hunted by the Second Sister, a member of the Inquisitors, Force-sensitive Jedi-hunters first introduced in Star Wars Rebels. Supporting characters include Cal’s Jedi mentor, Cere, and droid sidekick BD-1. The gameplay footage unveiled at E3 also revealed that Cal is joined by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera in his fight against the Empire. 

That all sounds great on paper, but while a mix of platforming and lightsaber combat in Jedi: Fallen Order’s E3 gameplay reveal fulfills the fantasy of being an all-powerful Jedi, the game also looks like an artistic rehash of familiar Star Wars visuals, down to the oft-revisited Kashyyyk setting. In fact, it looks like Cal will fight across an array of landscapes with the traditional aesthetic focus on Star Wars grit: catwalks, jungles, and dark, angular hallways. It’s hard to argue against the romantic snap of a lightsaber illuminating a dark hallway, but Jedi: Fallen Order’s demo also shows us game scenarios we’ve seen before. 

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In fact, even elements we haven’t necessarily experienced in Star Wars games before are actually ripped straight out of the movies and Respawn’s past titles. Cal has a variety of Force abilities, and in addition to the classic push and pull, the footage shows him using the Force to slow down blaster bolts in mid-air a la Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. He can also use this ability to slow down obstacles or stop stormtroopers in their tracks. Titanfall‘s own parkour legacy is also on display in Cal’s wall-running. The little droid BD-1 is a reference to BT, the giant robot pal from Titanfall 2’s excellent campaign.

As far as action games with Jedi protagonists go, Jedi: Fallen Order‘s overall setup might remind Star Wars fans of the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series that pit Kyle Katarn, a mercenary turned Jedi, and his partner-in-crime, Jan Ors, against dark side cultists during and after the Galactic Civil War. The comparisons between Jedi Knight and Jedi: Fallen Order are pretty clear: not only do they both focus on third-person lightsaber action, with a mix of powerful Force abilities to boot, but both games also star male Jedi heroes who have been wronged by the Empire and must face Imperial Inquisitors (Jerec in Kyle’s case). Both heroes are also accompanied by women during their adventures, although Cal’s relationship with his mentor will undoubtedly be very different to Kyle and Jan’s eventually romantic one.

Even the heroes’ general backstories have their similarities: Kyle’s initial quest to avenge the death of his parents at the hands of the Empire eventually leads him to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi Knight. In Jedi: Fallen Order, Cal is already going through the training to become a Jedi Knight when the Order is destroyed, which sets him on a path of rebellion against the Empire. And their stories take place roughly during the same era of Star Wars — Cal in the years leading up to A New Hope, while Kyle originally stole the Death Star plans, a vital plot point of said movie, in Dark Forces.

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None of these comparisons mean Jedi: Fallen Order is bad —but they do mean it doesn’t seem to have a new hook to set it apart from other Star Wars games or stories. In 2003, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academythe final Katarn adventure, broke the mold by switching to a player-created character, a next-generation apprentice, adding an unexpected twist to a series that had so far focused on a single hero. This change gave the story a lot of room to play with the formula, especially when it came to finally breaking away from the usual human protagonists. You could choose from brightly-colored Prequel aliens as well as classic Original Trilogy creatures and humans. In contrast, Cal’s design, modeled after real-life actor Cameron Monaghan, is a blank slate, perhaps a person who intentionally makes himself look like an everyman to evade the Empire, forgoing the interesting DeviantArt palette of the Jedi Academy character customization options. 

This focus on repetition and the Original Trilogy touchpoint has been noted elsewhere in Star Wars as well. With Disney seemingly restricting the amount of flexibility licensees have when it comes to the Sequel Trilogy era until the saga is over, most new canon stories have rehashed the Original Trilogy. (The books and comics, several of which have focused on the Prequels, are a nice exception.) The Mandalorian, which is actually set after the Original Trilogy but before the Sequels, is also leaning into a blank slate character adventuring through familiar settings like desert and snow planets while fighting rogue Imperial remnant forces, not to mention that he looks a lot like Boba Fett. The masked figure is an empty shell of cool, a sanding down of Star Wars-shaped geometry instead of a new artistic statement of its own. 

The places we are seeing unique artistic statements in Star Wars are primarily in the animated shows: Rebels gave its renegade Jedi a green color palette instead of the typical brown-and-cream and surrounded him with a bickering, varied crew of aliens and humans. There are various differences between Kanan and Cal, but Jedi: Fallen Order‘s protagonist also emphasizes the fact that the field of Jedi who survived Order 66 is, again, getting crowded. 

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Early promo art showed Cal’s lightsaber against a background of rock carved with runes. What if this was a mechanic in the game as well as a trapping in the marketing? Giving him a connection to ancient Jedi who left ruins behind would at least give him an aesthetic focus — imagine a Jedi who uses runes to sharpen his Force powers, or unlocks new abilities by inscribing phrases on his lightsaber. Maybe the game will eventually touch on that, but that was not highlighted in the E3 demo. 

Jedi: Fallen Order’s setting, characters, and story might be a case of bad timing, with Respawn unable to branch out beyond the era reserved for spinoffs like Rogue One, Solo, and Rebels, per Disney’s restrictions. But that also highlights the problem with the game’s lack of a unique visual identity — how does Jedi: Fallen Order stand apart from its predecessors? in 1977, Star Wars looked different from any other science fiction of its day despite being inspired by serials like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and other pulps filtered through George Lucas’s brain.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the game looking like another Jedi Knight. This will be someone’s first Star Wars game and might be the best Jedi simulator yet. It’s also important to note that the trailers and gameplay reveal are only a first impression teasing a very small part of the game, so it may still have a few surprises up its sleeve. But, with Jedi Knight and similar stories in mind, it’s hard not to mourn the unique visual identity that Jedi: Fallen Order could have had and seems to lack. 

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will be available Nov. 15 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Megan Crouse writes about Star Wars and pop culture for StarWars.comStar Wars Insider, and Den of Geek. Read more of her work here. Find her on Twitter @blogfullofwords.

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