Star Wars has always played big on nostalgia in gaming, and it’s all the better for it

star wars squadrons

It’s no doubt that nostalgia plays a huge role in any media. We’re driven to go back and enjoy things in one way or the other repeatedly throughout life. Whether these are in the exact shape or form as they always were, or in under a fresh coat of paint while still retaining the aspects we fell in love with them in the first place, there’s always a warm fuzzy feeling when jumping back into our comfort zones every now and then, and enjoying the memories both new and old.

Star Wars is one of those that really shines through in that regard, and to a certain extent, goes beyond it. For anyone 40-ish and under, it’s been a part of our lives independently of our liking it or not. George Lucas’ seminal 1977 film erupted a cultural movement that has been a undeniable pillar of influence in not just fantasy, but in many other facets of life; be it an allegory of one’s journey through young life into defining the adult that they become to finding and gripping positivity against all odds, Star Wars has been a constant presence since its very inception.

My interest in it has varied quite wildly throughout the years. As a pre-teen kid, I actually despised it. Every time I would flip one of the handful of channels on our antenna TV and stumble into a rerun of Empire Strikes Back, I would try to watch it and just feel bored. It wasn’t until the Special Edition of the original trilogy hit theaters and I was able to see the spectacle on the big screen with my brother that I really grew to appreciate and enjoy what Lucas had created. And by the time The Phantom Menace rolled around in 1999, I was knee-deep into the then returning to the limelight juggernaut.

star wars dark forces
Get out of my way, there are some Death Star plans I have to steal!

Games-wise, I could draw a parallel between my growing interest in the grander Star Wars universe and my actual love for the format. In the early 1990s, I really got into the Doom games, which at the time weren’t categorized into what we now call first-person shooters. Everybody fit everything that played similarly into “Doom clones” and went about their business. In 1996, my family moved to the United States, and at that time I had the opportunity to start using the internet and have access to the early forms of online magazines.

I found out about Quake and such thanks to those, but it wasn’t until we walked into Sears one sleepy weekend that I discovered the next best thing: Star Wars Dark Forces. And man, it hit me good. Must’ve played that store demo 20 times over our subsequent mall visits until I was actually able to play the full game on a then fairly new Celeron-equipped Acer Aspire set and get to the bottom of Kyle Katarn’s inaugural adventure. It eventually led me to get its far superior sequels later on, once I was able to start building a modest CD-rom collection of games, which also included the incredibly good X-Wing and TIE Fighter games, along with the not so brilliant but still fun online-focused mashup X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter.

All of those I played with a dinky joystick alongside Microsoft Flight Simulator 95 and later 98, as you might remember when I waxed nostalgic about that series earlier this year in my review of the new game. My best memories of PC gaming come from that period of time, and while I wasn’t as good of a player in any way that would come close to mastering any of those games, I can’t think of any time in my life I didn’t get to try as many different ones than back then. Downloads and burned discs were aplenty thanks to the ease of access early broadband provided, and at that time I hadn’t started worrying about writing about my experiences; I merely jumped from one to the other without much care.

star wars the old republic
Whatever side you join, it’ll be colorful!

Still, playing whatever game that came to be associated to Star Wars that I could, pushing me to also check out the extended universe content in the form of books — which sadly with the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm has now become a picking ground for elements that become part of the “official” canon while the rest languishes as a “legend” — especially the Heirs of the Empire series, then considered the sequel to the classic trilogy, and most importantly, the Rogue Squadron anthology. That one in particular served as the source of the little that there was in terms of story to the N64 and GameCube classics, expanding upon the events in those games and giving more of a background to Wedge Antilles and his plucky ground of resistance flyers, which jokingly included even an ewok!

For as shaky as a lot of the post acquisition products have been, I can’t fault EA for trying to make use of our nostalgia when bringing out new games based on Star Wars. I’ve had very little experience with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and hope to fix that thanks to its inclusion to EA Play this week on PC. The then still LucasArts previous effort with The Force Unleashed, for as screwed up as it was with the second game, proved to be highly entertaining and influential to their latest release. Bioware in particular, which is now part of EA as well, had their own stroke of genius by releasing the beloved Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic spin-off series of RPGs, spawning later on even an MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Now, the Star Wars fiend that I was back in the early 2000s who loved KOTOR pushed me into giving The Old Republic a shot when it was released in 2009, but due to how close it played to yet another love of my from that time, World of WarCraft and even Lord of the Rings Online, I didn’t stick with it for longer than the starting month or two that came with the original release. Funnily enough, it was only after its arrival onto Steam a couple of months ago that propelled me to get back at it again, numerous expansions in and after the switch to a free-to-play model. By subscribing for a month, I was able to secure good all of the new content, and for the month that it lasted, I really enjoyed what ol’ Bioware had cooked up in the form of an MMO.

Think what you will of Anthem, their more recent attempt at having a service game that pretty much flopped right out of the gate and is now under a heavy reworking within that company, The Old Republic eventually succeeded against all odds. Silently, and under heavy dismissal from the video gaming public who have since given up on it, the second attempt at dishing Star Wars under the guise of an MMO is a fun option for anyone looking to play online without spending too much cash, or any at all. By now everyone with a modest PC can run that game without much trouble, and it’s fully integrated with Steam, including its host of microtransactions, that outside of offering a completely optional subscription, gives you the choice to buy a whole bunch of cosmetics. That’s to say, the usual approach to FTP.

star wars xwing vs tie fighter
Open the blast doors, open the blast doors!

Then again, even as a free player, The Old Republic is an excellent Star Wars experience. What Bioware does best, the writing, is as ever present in this game, and thanks to the excellent production values that resulted in fully voiced dialogues and really well scripted scenes, not to mention a fantastic continuation of the KOTOR story makes it worth checking out for sure. Currently, I’m playing a level 75 (that’s the current cap, by the way) bounty hunter who’s not 100% committed to being an evil son of a blaster, but more of a build-her-own-morality tough-as-nails gal, who I rolled and only got to the early 30’s back in the day. We’re at the cusp of starting the second expansion that deals with the apparent resurgence of Revan after finishing off all of the soloable content in Rise of the Hutt Cartel, SW:TOR’s first piece of DLC, as well as the original game’s.

On one hand, it’s daunting to think I have so much content ahead of me to play, nearly a decade’s worth, but taking into account the overall quality of my adventure so far and the prospect of not having to invest any money whatsoever in it, taking my own time playing, it’s been a lot of fun cruising through it. The story especially has been incredible, and going against the grain of being full evil just because I’m playing Empire side and still scraping by with a really enjoyable narrative is only proof of the writing talent that Bioware has in its wings, even if the gameplay itself is as MMO — kill X things, gather Y, with the usual reputation grinds and whatnot — as ever.

star wars the force unleashed
Don’t worry! I’ve…got…this!

But what of the spaceship simulation side of Star Wars? Has there ever been a game in the modern systems that’s come close to capturing the joy that I had back as a kid playing on my PC or even on the N64 or PlayStation 2? Well, personally, it’s been dubious at best. On one hand, knowing that I could fly ships in the newer Star Wars: Battlefront almost got me to play them, imagining myself getting into the player progression of an online-heavy service game such as those kept me away from trying them at all. And it was only with this year’s Star Wars: Squadrons that I finally got back into the cockpit of the many letter-Wings and Twin-Ion Engines I so loved stuffing myself into virtually in the past.

EA Motive’s Star Wars: Squadrons is the best attempt at having a Star Wars experience that didn’t have to rely on any manner of Jedi gimmicks for it to be fun, and also having a laser focus on proving a story campaign to go with a somewhat robust online component. In it, you play as nameless pilots on both sides of the intergalactic conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion (that turns to New Republic after the intro segment), dealing in events that follow the old trilogy and into the (ack) new one.

Squadrons in many ways a modern romp under the guise of more classic Star Wars, so you’ll see some twists to established factions that you wouldn’t normally run into a product from 1980s or even 1990s Star Wars, like a more accepting to gender equality Imperial force — well, unless you consider the extended fiction’s Natasi Daala and her Sun Crusher, but that not here or there! It’s not a mind-blowing campaign full of twists, but it serves as a good excuse to blow stuff up and pilot some cool ships.

And hey, you can even go and be more technical about the way you play by shifting power between your craft’s three systems like you could in the old games, which is really well implemented and vital to gameplay (even more so at higher difficulties) and goes beyond a mere nod to the past titles. For a fan like myself of what came before it with way less free time than I wish I had to play way more than I can now as I did as a kid, Star Wars: Squadrons does an amazing job at providing an entertaining time in limited chunks every time I’ve gotten to plop down and play around with it.

star wars squadrons
Take that, Imperial scum! In VR!

What’s even more promising and sadly untested by me due to not owning any sort of VR equipment is the game’s implementation of VR, but I’ll leave that to WayTooManyGames’ Leo Faria who got to dive in that way and was head over heels about how well it turned out. As a non-VR experience though, Star War: Squadrons is a very much a blast, and as soon as I get the chance I’ll try to get my rusty behind into some online skirmishes in that game’s multiplayer mode.

Now, where could Star Wars go from here? Could there be even more to explore in our gaming nostalgia that hasn’t already been mined? They have even gone as far as bringing back some of the Super Nintendo titles developed by JVC, for crying out loud! With the success of Disney+ and The Mandalorian, I wouldn’t mind a new entry in Star Wars: Bounty Hunter or even a completely new idea with the concept of playing as Mando or one of his kind. After all the time I’ve already spent in the shoes of one in SW:TOR, the idea of making it more action-oriented game with a touch of Western using today’s tech is very enticing.

Then again, knowing how much money is riding on Star Wars nowadays and the wildly varying quality of the products that Disney has been putting out in one way or the other over the last few years, I hope that new and exciting video game ideas that are as good as what the nostalgic past has brought us aren’t in a galaxy too far away…

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