I’m a fucking mark for Star Wars. I was raised during the time of the prequels and all the exciting new Star Wars fanaticism that those movies brought. Even before they came out, I was driving family friends insane wanting to talk details about the original Star Wars movies. So it came as no surprise that when Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order opened I was irrationally excited. Look at all these gigantic, Clones Wars era ships! Look at how massive they are! I get to run through these??? What’s so impressive about the game is the way it adds these universe details throughout its set pieces and environmental backdrops. It made the Star Wars fan in me incredibly excited. When I slowed down and thought about my time with the game, I wondered how much my fandom carried me through it. Was the game actually as impressive as I felt it was when a tie fighter streamed across the sky? Did the story really wow me because it was subversive or did it just touch on themes that the more straightforward plots of movies gloss over?
My reservations begin with the protagonist, Cal Kestis. He doesn’t make a good case why in 2019 we needed another white, male protagonist. He’s your stock underdog and he follows the standard hero’s journey from fearful to confident and trusting in himself. The game has you play as Cal through interesting scenarios; the Order 66 flashback is especially fantastic in the way that it shows how powerless the Jedi were when an entire government turns on them. But there’s not much particularly interesting about Cal himself. Luckily Fallen Order surrounds him with other more dynamic characters like renounced Jedi, Cere. Cere’s failure as a Jedi master and mentor are really what drives the plot. Her unresolved trauma is the main plot driver. Cere is forced to reckon with her past mistakes and her failures as a mentor when Trilla, her former padawan, reappears as part of the Empire and attempts to halt the protagonists progress. Cere learning to trust herself again and accept her failings is something we don’t usually get in Star Wars’ stories. Cere is rightfully scared of her own power; the force is rightfully depicted as unwieldy and terrifying when people are unable to control it. Jedi Fallen Order argues that to truly understand the force and yourself, you must be able to accept the darkest parts as well. This idea that light and dark must both coexist within force users is not new, but is unique in Star Wars video games that have traditionally tasked players with choosing between binaries.
Trilla is a great antagonist, the mirror image to Cal Kestis and the literal ghost of Cere’s past. She’s better and more skilled than Cal but draws power from her trauma in the form of anger and the dark side. She’s a dynamic character and a villain you can truly relate to, even if she’s been party to the empire’s fascistic campaigns. She haunts Cere at every turn, the Padawan she failed to protect and the reason Cere tapped into the dark side. Trilla is sympathetic a rarity for dark side wielders. She’s a woman who’s gone through the emotional wringer and left a hollowed out imperator.
Meeting Merrin on Dathamir opens up the Star Wars universe considerably. She was part of an order of force users that were used in the Clone Wars and then systematically wiped out, so She’s earned her disdain for the Jedi. Her utilizing force magick exists outside the binaries of light and dark. Dathamir is meant to be a place of fear and dark power, but that’s only because of the dark acts committed there. It opens up the possibility that practices and people are not inherently evil in this world, but created through purposeful acts (again a powerful statement in the Star Wars universe where planets are seen as either light or dark, and occult is equated with evil). Merrin operates outside of Sith and Jedi and props up the game’s message about the need to abolish those binaries.
While all those details and characters are interesting, they mostly serve to fill out the boilerplate plot of searching for the macguffins. The game borrows heavily from a variety of popular game genres; plundering tombs like Tomb Raider and uncharted, Souls like lightsaber combat and bonfire save points. Cal himself serves to point out their vision; this is Star Wars but like the games you love and here is your required white male protagonist. Feast gamers.
Riffing on popular game ideas is fine! But there’s little to elevate off those core ideas. The combat especially suffers in comparison to something like Sekiro, which had come out earlier that year in 2019. They both really have an aggressive fighting style utilizing blocking and parrying to open up enemies. Jedi though is just slightly more sluggish. It has wider parry windows but I found that I had to try and parry earlier than felt natural and I could never quite get the timing correct.
The game is not bad by any stretch and the wider story bits mentioned earlier make the treadmill enticing. The bland protagonist hinders the proceedings though. All that being said, the Star Wars trappings here are tuned just right. Would I like it as much without those? Probably not, but it’s solid enough. I’m looking forward for the inevitable sequel, I was honestly surprised that everyone survives. How will the crew get out of the entire historical expanse between episodes 3&4? Your guess is as good as mine.
Check out my video review on my YouTube! I dig a bit more into the game play, but be wary of spoilers as well.