Star Wars has been in an interesting place lately. Ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm back in 2012, the whole Star Wars brand seems to have been revitalized. For the first time since 2008 (in case you forgot The Clone Wars started with a feature film), new Star Wars films were on the horizon.
Under Disney’s eye, Star Wars won’t be taking a hiatus anytime soon, and the brand seems to be in the public eye more than ever these days. We are in the age of Star Wars, with new novels, TV shows, comic books, and yes, video games.
Ever since the deal with EA was announced in 2013, it seemed like we were in a new era of Star Wars games. Say what you want about EA, but it is a company filled with talented studios. After a quiet period of Star Wars games (except for, um, Kinect Star Wars), it appeared we were in a renaissance. With a new canon under Disney, developers had the opportunity to explore the Star Wars galaxy like never before.
Would we be getting games that would be as revered as Battlefront and the Knights of the Old Republic series? Things seemed hopeful at the beginning, but as of right now, the state of Star Wars video games are in question.
Deal of a Lifetime?
EA doesn’t have the best reputation with gamers, sure, but they do own several talented studios. The EA-Disney deal was exciting for many reasons, but frankly, we haven’t really seen the true results of this pairing.
The only games we have received under the EA deal so far are Battlefront and Battlefront II. Neither game is bad, for sure, but it is a little disappointing that we haven’t received anything else. Yes, game development is a long process, and the deal was only announced in 2013, but that we haven’t even so much as heard of any other game is surprising. But knowing what we know now, maybe it isn’t as surprising.
As we all know at this point, Visceral’s untitled (and forever untitled) Star Wars project was essentially canceled in October 2017. Now, it hasn’t been officially canceled but it is being heavily restructured. Originally described as a narrative-driven, single-player experience, many speculate it will be transformed into a Destiny-like game.
Virtually nothing is known about Respawn’s contribution to the franchise, except that it will be an action-adventure title. Bioware was listed as one of the developers making a Star Wars title as part of the original announcement, but we’ve heard nothing since.
Considering the studio’s going all-in on its upcoming Anthem (and presumably Dragon Age 4), it stands to reason that Bioware has not been working on a brand-new Star Wars game. Rather, it appears that Bioware’s inclusion was only for continuing support for The Old Republic.
When you look at it as a whole, the results of this massive deal are a bit disappointing. Though in all honesty, EA (and Star Wars as a whole) hasn’t had the greatest 2017.
Like I’ve mentioned, EA’s reputation isn’t the greatest. 2017 has been especially unkind. This is not the place to rehash it, but between the Mass Effect: Andromeda fiasco and Visceral’s closure, EA had a bit of an image problem. And that’s not even talking about the Battlefront II controversy. But like I said, I’m not here to rehash it.
Interestingly enough, this hasn’t been Star Wars’ greatest year ever, either. Sure, The Last Jedi was a commercial and critical smash. However, the audience reaction was downright polarized, with some declaring it their least favorite Star Wars movie ever.
When looked at with the aforementioned Battlefront II situation, Star Wars is in an interesting place. No, the franchise is in no danger whatsoever, but it is fascinating to think about how these situations parallel each other.
I think a question that many people have been wondering is what happens with the Star Wars video game license? The specific length of the EA deal is unknown (to this author, at least), so who knows how long EA has the license.
But despite the talent of its studios, one can’t help but imagine whether Disney is looking at its options once the deal expires (if it has an expiration date?). Sure, they can always renew the current deal, but would that be the best option? One can only imagine every game company would jump at the chance to hold the Star Wars license, but ultimately, the power is with Disney.
And as we all know, Disney makes some… interesting decisions. The fact that the CEO of Disney himself contacted EA about the micro-transactions in Battlefront II adds an interesting wrinkle to it all.
Many Paths to Take
In this author’s humble opinion, I think Disney’s best option is to look at what they’re doing with Marvel. They didn’t sign with one single publisher to have the exclusive rights to Marvel characters. Instead, they hired different developers, and different publishers to take on different characters.
That’s why we got Telltale doing a Guardians of the Galaxy adventure. It’s why Insomniac is taking on Spider-Man, with Sony publishing it exclusively for the PlayStation 4. And it’s why we have Eidos Montréal developing an Avengers title, with other Square Enix developers tackling other properties as well.
This solution is ideal for many reasons. For one thing, Lucasfilm isn’t tied to one company, which could be detrimental. Secondly, it could result in a more diverse portfolio of games. Imagine Telltale doing its own story set in the Star Wars universe. Or what about Ninja Theory making its own Star Wars action game?
And EA doesn’t need to be left out, either. It may be wishful thinking at this point, but imagine Bioware rebooting the Knights of the Old Republic series, finally bringing it into canon. (Was this whole article just a way to get me to talk about how much I want a new KOTOR game? Probably)
Let’s face it, EA is not in gamers’ good graces lately. While a lot of opinions on the company may be a bit unwarranted, perception is reality, especially in a consumer-driven market like the games industry. The EA stigma is, unfortunately, something that impacts all of its games. It’s unfortunate, yes, but at the end of the day, Disney runs a business. Businesses are about making money, and a big part of making money is consumer perception.
A Galaxy Full of Possibilities
While who will develop a Star Wars games is certainly an interesting question itself, equally important is when these games will take place. One noticeable aspect of the games we’ve gotten from EA is that they are very much connected to the films. Is this an issue? Considering how vast the Star Wars universe (galaxy?) is, I’d say yes. There’s so much potential in telling brand new stories, that Star Wars games should venture as far from the movies as possible.
Now, considering that only one game from EA actually is telling a brand new story, this may be a weird complaint. But it’s similar to the problems facing the standalone Star Wars films. The big appeal of these films was the potential to go to corners of Star Wars never before seen. But so far, each film (released and rumored) seems to, at the very least, connect back to an established character, if not a specific film.
Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebels got the Death Star plans. Solo will be giving us the backstory of Han Solo, which seems like something no one is eager to learn. Even rumored films, like the Obi-Wan centric story, or the Boba Fett film, connect back to the main story.
Sure, you could make the argument that these connections are necessary to bring in audiences. But even so, video games are different. These games aren’t made aimed at the broadest audience possible. More than likely, the ones playing Star Wars games are more than casual fans. Why not go to a part of the Star Wars timeline not yet explored, years away from the film series?
A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…
Star Wars isn’t going anywhere. It hasn’t gone anywhere. Despite a few stumbles over the years, Star Wars has persisted and is now forever a part of our pop culture. Now under Disney’s control, Star Wars is as mainstream as ever. You can’t go anywhere without seeing something Star Wars, and very few properties come close to being as expansive as Star Wars.
With a completely reset canon, the possibilities are endless for where Star Wars can go. We’ve seen new stories covering previously-unknown events being told on television, in novels, and in comics. For the most part, however, these stories have been set around the timeline of the films.
Maybe there’s a specific reason we haven’t strayed too far from the films. Maybe Lucasfilm doesn’t want the ending of their new trilogy spoiled. That is valid, yes.
But a film set thousands of years after the films doesn’t need to be beholden to these storylines. The events of the films would be nothing but Legends by that point.
I think that’s why I’m also excited about the prospect of different developers and publishers taking the reigns with the Star Wars license. The farther apart stories take place, the higher likelihood this would result in a difference of aesthetics as well.
The world of Star Wars is so vast it’s almost a shame we haven’t seen more of it. More diverse storytellers mean more diverse stories.