Editorial: Exploring ‘Star Wars’ Gaming Then vs. Now – ‘The Force Unleashed’ and ‘Jedi: Fallen Order’

As a new parent, I have found my nights running late and filled with bottle-feeding, endless diaper changes, burping session after burping session, and my insomnia growing worse with each passing midnight. As a result of never getting to sleep again, I have also managed to carve out some of that time to revisit two seminal games in the lead-up to the March release of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Jumping between these two games got me thinking about the differences and similarities between their experiences. Additionally, these comparisons have also given me pause to reflect on where Star Wars currently is in the gaming sphere versus where it was back in 2008.


It goes without saying that there are major and minor plot and character details discussed here, so if you’ve never played either game, a spoiler warning is now in effect.


Round 1 – Protagonists:


Let’s start this comparison with the lead characters — those heroes of the Force and avatars for gamers longing to wield a lightsaber and mystical powers.



Galen Marek (aka Starkiller) — Remember when, in the early 2000s, all male video game leads had shaved heads, scowls permanently affixed to their faces, and gruff, no-nonsense attitudes (I believe we referred to it as a baditude)? Think back to the Kratos pre-papa days, or Robin in the Batman: Arkham games, or Cole MacGrath from inFamous, or even default male Commander Shepard; Starkiller fit right into the same niche, character archetype. The dude was all angsty business, toxic masculinity personified, and filled with more rage than a carload of teenagers learning to drive.


Starkiller was also, like all of those other early 2000s male video game leads, an absolute power fantasy. Taking down Star Destroyers aside, Starkiller was always presented as a bald, growling, stalking meat-bag filled with limitless power. Even at the game’s outset, when the player has not yet begun to really collect the experience necessary to make any significant upgrades, this dude is ready to tear it all down. This was an era when gaming was still perceived as a Mountain-Dew-flowing, testosterone-amped, boys-only world. Of course, women have always been playing games, and they did so in this era too, but player representation was mainly for the boys, by the boys, and representing the boys.


Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - Cal Kestis


Cal Kestis — A little over ten years later and the next protagonist of a Jedi-themed game is a completely different avatar in every way, shape, and form. Cal actually sports hair, is modest and thoughtful, and far more relatable as a main character. Cal is soft-spoken and passionate, but not fueled by passion in the same way that Starkiller was. Most importantly to the plot and his character arc, Cal shows real vulnerability throughout his adventure. Cal’s journey takes him from being a Jedi in hiding to facing the forces of the Empire and reliving his past trauma at the hands of Order 66, all while relearning to connect with the Force and to strive to protect and foster the future of the Jedi Order.


Unlike Starkiller, Cal starts his journey cut off from the Force. Gone is the absolute power fantasy, and the growth in strength and abilities ebbs and flows with the story beats instead. As the story progresses, the player is meant to feel more powerful, as Cal does with each unlocked ability, but you are never meant to feel like a freakin’ tank of death and destruction. A lot of this also stems from the fact that Jedi: Fallen Order is less of an arcade-style experience and more like a Soulsborne game, which is meant to make the player feel vulnerable since the idea of death and rebirth is baked right into said mechanic. And on that note…


Round 2 – Gameplay:


Two games, two lightsaber-wielders, and two completely different styles of gameplay and progression.


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - breaking through


The Force Unleashed — This game is all about progressing through each and every level, a whirlwind of murder as you stalk through a linear path. Sure, there are little offshoots to explore where one might find some more enemies hunkered down, waiting to take a shot at you, or the occasional hidden collectable, but by and far, this is a straightforward trip through hallways and corridors; a guided path unapologetically taking you from point A to point B. Sure, there is a kind of hub in both the multiple trips back to the decimated Jedi Temple on Coruscant and within Starkiller’s ship, The Rogue Shadow (man, even his ship is angsty-as-hell). But overall, it’s just one arcade-like level after another, each area dotted with the occasional mini-boss, and each level punctuated with a stage-ending boss. You can spend time in the dark confines of your ship between missions, upgrading your saber, reading over info reports, and changing your hardcore outfits, but it’s not a place of excitement or growth; the ship is literally a fancy menu screen and not much else. At the end of the day, it all comes down to that tried-and-true formula of rinse and repeat that, while repetitive, when done well, can still give you the dopamine highs that come with the utter enjoyment wiping out legions of stormtroopers.


Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - riding giants


Jedi: Fallen Order — While the combat style (something we’ll delve into a little more in a bit) may be lifted straight from a Soulsborne game, progression is much more akin to a Metroidvania game, with Cal’s journey taking place across multiple biomes with areas and collectables that unlock based upon both progression and abilities unlocked up to certain points within the narrative. Cal can return to Zeffo or Dathomir or Kashyyyk throughout his adventure, and each time expand his lore entries and collectables, and fill out the maps even if doing so has no bearing on the story itself. A great example of how exploring these bonus areas works can be found late in the game, when the player can chose to return to Zeffo and explore the remains of a crashed Venator Class starship, a real relic of the Clone Wars; there is no real bearing on the overall plot, and aside from some more collectables and datapoints, plus the desire to 100% all maps, this area gives Cal a chance to chat with BD-1 about his own time as a Padawan aboard a similar vessel during the height of the War. Sure, these things can be skipped on a casual playthrough, but for those willing to look a little deeper, there is a whole lot to explore.


Finally, while your ship, The Mantis (brings back memories of cool ship names that weren’t so angsty, like the Moldy Crow from Dark Forces), is also a hub, it’s less of a place of brooding darkness and more of a place filled with life and lively conversations, not to mention a lovely terrarium.


Round 3 – Combat:


The very bread and butter of any video game involving Force-wielders and laser swords. Both games offer these things to players, and yet these offerings are like night and day.


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - duel


The Force Unleashed — Combat in this game is fast, loose, and, for lack of a better term, unleashed; Starkiller is a whirling storm of death and destruction. Combos flow like manna and are only broken up when the player is forced to engage in the seemingly endless QTE (Quick Time Event) portions during boss encounters and other moments, which are not so much peppered throughout gameplay as force-fed (pun most certainly intended). If, during one of these battles, you miss a button prompt, then the whole process starts over (and the boss will gain back a bit of health) so that you can eventually do as the story dictates you to do and take them down in a grand, dramatically violent display that looks incredible but leaves the player feeling left on the sidelines. Combat is really a mixed bag in this game, between the lightning-quick arcade-style slicing and dicing and the twitchy button prompts — it all controls like very much a product of its time. During combat, the player can watch as experience orbs fly across the screen and build up in their bank, waiting for allocation to skills.


Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - group battle


Jedi: Fallen Order — Unlike The Force Unleashed, combat in Jedi: Fallen Order is more nuanced, with the player needing to rely upon enemy tells to know when to dodge, strike, or deflect/parry. At the same time, the combat feels more natural as you learn to use the occasional Force power or cause more damage than your standard attacks do. Also unlike The Force Unleashed, you will not have wave after wave of tissue-paper stormtroopers coming at you. Instead, you will have to be more strategic with your encounters, like in Elden Ring or Dark Souls. While using the Force in any capacity in combat, you also run the risk of draining your meter, waiting for it to fill only once you’ve gotten some more hits in or used a stim canister in combat to heal up. Every encounter requires at least a little thought and planning. Like in The Force Unleashed, there are occasional button-prompt moments during combat, but these are far and few, and are mainly used against bosses and require no more than single button-mashing events used for defense in heated combat. Experience builds up until skill points are gained. If a player is felled in combat before an experience point is acquired, then said enemy must be faced once more (they glow with an obvious golden hue) and will relinquish health and experience unto Cal, just like in any other Soulsborne game.


Round 4 — Story:


The real meat and potatoes of any great (or even good) Star Wars single-player gaming experience.


Starkiller protects Bail Organa


The Force Unleashed — Revenge. Betrayal. Deception. The Force Unleashed contains some truly Shakespearean levels of drama. Not only is Starkiller a brooding mass of unbridled fury, but his journey takes him from offing Jedi in hiding at the behest of his Master, Darth Vader (oh yeah, this guy is a secret apprentice to Vader just like Ahsoka was to Anakin during the Clone Wars), only to eventually seek his revenge against the Empire for his lot in life. Moreover, he ends up helping the Rebel Alliance to form. Thankfully, this hectic plot and the myriad of characters contained within are no longer canon as of the Disney acquisition of LFL. Like any story set up under Lucas’s time running Lucasfilm, and especially considering that he had a personal hand in this project, everything is a bit heavy-handed and on-the-nose. There is absolutely no room for subtlety in The Force Unleashed, and boy does it show. Like Vader unnecessarily screaming “Nooo!” when offing Papa Palpatine in ROTJ, nothing can really be interpreted or deeply explored thematically, since this game knows that folks will flock to it simply so that they can power-fantasy their way through it and feel like a boss. If Jedi: Fallen Order is in line with the new God of War games, then The Force Unleashed is most certainly a kindred spirit in the over-the-top, violent, rage-fest that is the original God of War series.


Cal Kestis meets Saw Gerrera


Jedi: Fallen Order — Where the plot of The Force Unleashed is simple and straightforward, twists and turns and all, Cal’s story in Jedi: Fallen Order is personal in a different way from Starkiller’s personal journey. For Starkiller, it’s personal in that 1980s Chuck Norris action movie “Now it’s personal” way, while for Cal Kestis, his is a story of deep personal exploration set amongst the epic battle between the forces of the fledgling Rebellion against the dazzling might of the Galactic Empire. Cal spends the story following in the footsteps of Jedi Scholar Eno Cordova, who was studying the ancient Zeffo race, a species similar to the Rakata in Knights of the Old Republic. Cal follow’s Cordova’s path in an attempt to retrieve a holocron which contains the names of Force-sensitive children spread throughout the galaxy. Along the way, Cal and his companions tangle with the Ninth and Second Sisters of the Inquisitorius, one of which turns out to be the corrupted apprentice of one of Cal’s closest companions, Cere Junda. Cal surrounds himself with a cast of lovable misfits: a former Jedi now cut off form the Force, a skilled pilot and gambler, one of the last of the Night Sisters from Dathomir, and a ridiculously adorable droid companion in BD-1. Cal’s journey is their journey as they all grow together and fight for a common cause.


Conclusion — Winners Don’t Use Drugs:



So where does this leave us? Well, aside from the fact that both games end with brutal encounters against Darth Vader, they are completely different experiences. Obviously, it truly comes down to different strokes for different folks, but looking back upon both, The Force Unleashed feels like a relic from a bygone era of gaming we have long since moved past. It drips with so much anger and poser levels of angst that it borders on parody, whereas Jedi: Fallen Order is a far more mature story and experience that feels right at home with the new canon and stands brilliantly on its own. Between the two games, the latter feels like it will stand the test of time much longer than the former. But of course, like I mentioned earlier, it really comes down to each person’s preferred story and gameplay. While I have enjoyed my time running through The Force Unleashed, it feels less like something I would return to time and again and more like an echo from an era when Star Wars gaming was coming to a close at the end of its run throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.


For fans (myself included) of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, it will forever break my heart that the sequel was so horrible, and hopefully for fans of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (me again), Jedi: Survivor will be just as good, if not better than Respawn and EA’s first foray into single-player Star Wars games since the beginning of the Disney era.


Starkiller's DLC outfit


I gotta say though, as ridiculously metal as the alternate-reality Sith Stalker armor is, Cal Kestis wins all the fashion points for making ponchos cool again — A New Hope deleted scene Luke Skywalker and Micky Dolenz agree that ponchos are cool!



Born and raised in sunny Southern California, Colin grew up an avid fan of Star Wars, Disneyland, and so many more pop-culture staples. After spending some time as a character at a well-known theme park, he spent some time attending college in the UK. Colin now lives with his wife and dog just down the road from the Happiest Place on Earth and divides his time between family, friends, gaming, and writing horror stories and think pieces on cinema.

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