Well, it’s May The Fourth. And that means Star Wars. Lots and lots of Star Wars.
It’s times like this where I start thinking back on the franchise and what it means to me. Star Wars pretty much changed my life in no small way. I was three when I first saw the movies. In fact, my oldest daughter is three, and I’ve spent this weekend introducing her to the series just to bring her into the series right when I was introduced to it. It seemed a great age to have done so.
But to be honest, my first exposure to the series was not the movies. I was two years old, and I was in front of my first arcade game — Star Wars. I don’t remember much from my early childhood, but I remember the crude vector graphics and seeing things I didn’t understand flash and whizz by me, my dad stepping up and blowing something up. I didn’t even know what it was, but it was the coolest thing I ever saw in my two-year-old life. I made the connection of the movies to that game way later on, but it’s worth noting that the first exposure I’d have to the series that defined a large part of my childhood was an arcade game, which would naturally feed into the other hobby that defined my childhood.
Many years passed. I played JVC’s Super Star Wars trilogy on SNES, I played Shadows Of The Empire and Rogue Squadron on N64, I played X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter on PC, I even played the quite-honestly-godawful Masters of Teras Kasi on PlayStation. That last one, I’m not exactly proud of. But I played every Star Wars game I could get my hands on. And I enjoyed them all, to some degree. But there’s one Star Wars game that still has its hooks in me, one game that is so good that I can’t help but replay it once every year or so.
That game is Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic.
Last night was our second Star Wars night in our family movie marathon. We had just finished The Empire Strikes Back, I put my oldest daughter to bed, and then I went back out into the living room. My wife said she was tired, so we put on something she could fall asleep to on TV, and after she drifted off I found that the hum of lightsabers were still in my head. I opened up my computer, opened up Steam, and instinctively reinstalled KotOR. I created my character, and off I was again on the greatest adventure in the series.
And that, my friends, is where I am now. I’m back in the undercity of the planet Taris, heading for Mission Vao and Zaalbar so we can get into the Black Vulkar base, possibly finding the Rakghoul serum along the way. Soon, we’ll be on Dantooine, learning from Masters Vrook and Vandar at the Jedi Enclave. Why is it that a twelve year old game can hook me this way? Why is it that even now, I fret over what side of The Force I will follow (to be honest, I almost always choose the Light, even though the Dark Side is way more fun)? My guess is that it tags something deep and spiritual within me, something that still wants to save the galaxy as a powerful Jedi Knight. It’s a game that lets you live out the fantasies of your childhood, the ones where you took the wrapping paper tubes at Christmastime and dueled your friends, making terrible versions of the sounds that accompanied lightsaber combat in the movies.
See, other Star Wars games didn’t ever really do that. They would normally focus on being a video game. Even the Dark Forces / Jedi Knight series on PC had lightsaber combat, but you never really felt like a Jedi. The Force Unleashed made you feel powerful, but you never really felt like a Jedi. Rogue Squadron and the X-Wing series made you feel like a flying ace, but never did they approximate the feeling of being a Jedi. Even the new trilogy’s games never quite nailed that.
But KotOR? Man, it lived there. And its sequel did, too (and it should have been allowed to finish correctly, Lucasarts). Never before did you feel such weight of consequence, never before did you feel so overtly powerful, but only after training and adventuring to fully grow as a wielder of The Force. And you got to choose how you grew, too. You could be anything you wanted to be. You could talk your way out of a situation. You could slice your way out. You could even choose to not be a Jedi at all! All of this was part of an experience that you couldn’t get anywhere else, even in its own franchise.
So, if you do anything for May The Fourth, go on Steam and install KotOR 1 & 2. If you’ve never played them, now’s a great time to start. Maybe you too can find out what sort of Jedi you’re going to be.
As for me, I’m going back to Taris after we finish up watching Return Of The Jedi tonight. Carth and I are going to save Bastila again!