Time after time, I’ve filed the shoes of the space traveler attached to Jennifer Hale’s commanding voice.Maybe it was slightly easier to fit Commander Shepard’s shoes in Mass Effect because I’d already played as Jaden Korr in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, one of my first and favorite Star Wars video games. Years later, my familiarity with Luke Skywalker’s academy also meant that, when Episode VII was announced, one of my first questions was whether J.J. Abrams would portray the Jedi school on the big screen.
Raven Software’s Jedi Academy is the tale of Jaden Korr, a Force-sensitive adult chosen to join Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy about 14 years after A New Hope. Before classes can begin, though, a Dark Jedi cult appears and attempts to sap Force energy from the academy buildings. Jaden Korr is sent on missions around the galaxy, while Kyle Katarn and Luke Skywalker try to track down the cult. Eventually, Korr learns more about the cultists and thwarts their plan to resurrect Sith Lord Marka Ragnos.
The game tends to be overshadowed in fan recollection by its predecessors, the Kyle Katarn-lead Jedi Knight games, which are considered some of the most entertaining shooter/action-adventure games in the Star Wars oeuvre. But in Jedi Academy, Katarn plays teacher, shepherding young protagonist Jaden Korr, whose gender, race, species, and clothing are customizable, throughout their mission.
Elements of the Jedi Knight story continue in this game, notably the presence of Kyle Katarn’s old foe Tavion Axmis. It portrays a Kyle Katarn who has slowed down slightly from his adventuring days, but who still undertakes missions of his own and attempts to keep Luke Skywalker’s grim soothsaying in check.The development team made a conscious decision to retire Kyle as a player character. He had become too much of a “Jedi superhero,” said Co-Project Lead Jon Zuk in an interview from 2003.
It would not make sense to demote Kyle back to tyro status for just the beginning of the game, Zuk said. “Kyle ended Jedi Outcast as a pretty powerful Jedi. If he were to take these missions, wouldn’t he just breeze through everything as a Jedi superhero?”
That decision lead to the idea of a customizable character. Coming five years before Hale would choose to voice the female Shepard, Jedi Academy came out the same year as Knights of the Old Republic, the first Star Wars game to allow a customizable character. This mechanic, reminiscent of tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, made it easier for players to identify with the character, more so because they could choose to express their opinions through light side or dark side actions.
I’m much better at video game geography and logic now than I was when I first played the game, much more likely to prioritize strategies based on how games usually ask players to solve problems. Today, the game’s lightsaber combat feels strangely loose and uncontrollable, the character just as liable to spin around than to slash in the direction I was hoping.
The varied types of missions and different planets are just as much fun as I remember, though. There’s Blenjeel, the desert mission which took a page out of the book of Dune and presented the player with a sandworm instead of sentient enemies. Another one of the earlier stories is a rollicking mission that brings the player through Tatooine in the company of Chewbacca, fighting mercenaries hired by the Cult of Ragnos along the way. Another of my favorite missions was set on Coruscant, with plenty of opportunities to push enemies off of high ledges right next to warning signs.
With this much variety, it’s easy to see how, regardless of which parts of the Star Wars ancillary material remain canon in Abrams’ sequel, the Jedi Academy could be a launching point for the new movies. The concept of a magical school or a training facility is a common one in pop fiction, but one that a lot of people enjoy. Perhaps this is because the school is both a physical and emotional center. Conflict with a bully can easily turn into something more complicated and layered when the bully and their victim are put on the same battlefield. It also creates a quick way for fans to imagine themselves in the shoes of a Jedi trainee. Other mechanics in Jedi Academy reminded me of the potential for more creative Jedi. Luke’s Jedi use a variety of weapons, from blasters to trip mines, and I would not be surprised if J. J. Abrams utilized more than just lightsabers as well.
But what I want more than anything else, is the chance to revisit the Jedi Academy in a new game. For this story to be told for a new generation, though, it would not have to even be set in the same era. With BioWare, Visceral, and DICE all lined up to create Star Wars games, the possibilities are larger than that. Since DICE is working on Battlefront 3, it would be unlikely for them to pick up another Star Wars shooter soon, but BioWare is perfectly poised to create a story-driven, customizable game experience.
Jedi Academy 2 would not even necessarily have to be set in the same era. What about the Academy of the Old Republic, or even further back, to the Je’daii of 25,000 years before them? The Expanded Universe also stretches in the other direction, forward to the return of the Lost Sith in the New Republic era.
A whole new generation of Jedi could emerge, perhaps harried by Sith who, in the tradition of their order, also want to revive a dead dark Master or prolong their own existence. A school can host students from all over the galaxy, from Sith purebloods from before the Republic to Yuuzhan Vong in the New Republic. Imagine an alien exchange student dealing with the clash of cultures, or a Sith infiltrator finding himself growing friendly with his classmates. BioWare would be perfectly poised to create a new Jedi RPG in the vein of Knights of the Old Republic.
Of course, there’s still a fan modding community that create their own stories in the PC version of the game. They’ve created multiplayer maps for planets such as Mustafar, and even some Star Trek ships!
A community called OpenJK calls itself an “effort to maintain and improve Jedi Academy + Jedi Outcast” and is actively coding to this day. A popular mod called “the Nina series,” last updated in 2007, built an entire story which takes place after the end of the game, in which the antagonist’s sister attempts to investigate her death.
At the height of my Jedi Academy days, the game was as seasonal as holidays. I would play the fiery Taspir and Tatooine maps in the summer and the crystal blue Rift Sanctuary in the winter. The game reflected what I saw in the world in the same way that Star Wars Episode IV had done. One of my hopes for Episode VII is to see that reflection again, and taking cues from Jedi Academy is just one way in which the film could do it. Hopefully, EA will follow suit.