Messy Canon: The Odd Continuity of Star Wars Gaming

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The new canon has been pretty interesting so far.  The books, comics, and new TV show have been adding to the overall lore, with the inclusion of new characters, and detailing events that happen between the movies.  Since Force Friday, we’ve been able to get a glimpse at the events following Return of the Jedi leading up to The Force Awakens.  For the most part, however, the video game aspect hasn’t been as cut and dry within the new canon; filling a nebulous grey area that’s still not fully part of the lore.  

The Star Wars video games have always existed in an odd place in the continuity, often times doing its own thing without considering the books or other media out there for it.  Hell, the first few Star Wars games had only passing connections to the films on which they were based on (the freaking Sarlacc was a boss in Super Star Wars, not even Super Return of the Jedi)!  It’s not uncommon for video games to take liberties with the source material, but some of the Star Wars games took this to an all new level.  

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Later on, as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (Legends) began coming into it’s own, LucasArts didn’t want to let the eagerness for new Star Wars stories to pass them by.  The problem, however, is there was very little collusion between the groups making the games, Lucasfilm itself, and those running the books/comics.  It wasn’t unless one became really popular that the other parts of the Star Wars machine took notice.  Take the Dark Forces franchise for example.  As gamers became enamored with the new characters and storyline, Dark Horse decided to create a series of novellas based on those stories.  

Rogue Squadron is another prime example, wherein the games took inspiration from the comic series and line of books while rarely connecting with them.  Hell, there were times when the comics and books didn’t even match up (but that’s another issue altogether). Why was this the case?  Why were the video games so often left out of the loop in terms of continuity?  Truthfully, there doesn’t seem to be any concrete answer.  

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We do know that for some reason Lucasfilm seemed incredibly reluctant to work with the gaming side of things for a long time.  Rogue Squadron was originally pitched as a game that would allow fans to relive the biggest battles of the movies, but Lucasfilm nixed the idea because they weren’t comfortable with having the games draw directly from the films.  They weren’t even allowed to use their official library of sound effects and only compromised on giving them incredibly low quality samples to work with instead.  

It wasn’t really until the Prequel era that everything started meshing together better.  Even then, the gaming arm of Star Wars still seemed to be the red-headed step-child.  While games like Bounty Hunter and Knights of the Old Republic did a great job of filling in and adding to the story, other titles like Star Wars Demolition, Jedi Power Battles, or Super Bombad Racing were clearly nothing more than slapdash cash-in attempts.  

Only a couple of the Star Wars games were given good treatment by the other areas of Lucasfilm.  Shadows of the Empire and The Force Unleashed got big media pushes and are some of the only games to be given the official “Lucas” approval for their stories.  Along with the games, there were tie-in books, comics, and a slew of toys.  For all intents and purposes, they were given the marketing treatment usually reserved for the films, but considering that over a decade of gaming separated those titles it’s clear the games still weren’t being treated as equals in the story department.  

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Moving forward, I’m sure that will change a little bit.  The industry today is at a point where engaging stories can be told with interesting characters we care about.  It’s all a matter of whether or not they decide to use them.  So far, Disney/Lucasfilm hasn’t been and their place in the canon remains fuzzy, while the rest of the material is pretty cut and dry.  

To be fair, Star Wars gaming hasn’t exactly picked up since the Disney acquisition, with only a few mobile games having released.  With Disney Infinity 3 now out and Star Wars Battlefront on the horizon, a new gaming era is about to begin for Star Wars; yet even those games occupy a weird space in the continuity and don’t fit with the “everything is canon” mantra so many latch onto. 

Since Star Wars Battlefront doesn’t have a storyline to begin with, it’s hard to give it any sort of ‘canon’ to work from.  It became very clear in their E3 trailer, that the game didn’t care much about Star Wars continuity.  Luke and Vader never crossed sabers at the battle of Hoth, nor did Luke have his green Lightsaber at that time.  Despite this, however, people are still looking at aspects of the game and trying to decipher clues to the overall Star Wars universe.  

Hell, we all saw that one article claiming that Disney officially made Boba Fett’s survival of the Sarlacc canon…but that’s not the case.  In fact, the footage they used as proof isn’t even from the planet they thought.  The problem Battlefront has, is it’s a multiplayer game in which any user can call down ‘heroes’ from all areas of the Saga.  As such, you can bring Boba Fett, Darth Vader, or Luke into battles where they never appeared.  What does that do to continuity?  Tosses it straight out the window.  

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Then of course there’s Disney Infinity, which features a toy box to create and interact with other Disney characters.  There’s no canon to any of that, and even the “story missions” in the game skew heavily from established canon.  Until this month’s release of Uprising, the mobile games haven’t had much connection to the new canon either.  Star Wars Commander lets you pick a side to fight for, giving players freedom of choice, thus making any story points difficult to pin down as “official” (though there’s not MUCH story to be had).

In regards to the games so far, the canon waters are pretty muddy and puts something of a dent into the “everything is canon” machine.  I suspect it won’t be until Visceral’s Star Wars title (the one about Han Solo presumably) before the games start to catch up with canon in the same way the comics and books have.  For the time being, there’s a kink in the continuity machine, not unlike how it used to be.

It will be interesting to see how things turn out in the future, but with EA focused solely on promoting Battlefront, there’s no telling when we’ll hear what’s up next.  Hopefully, video games’ place in Star Wars storytelling becomes stronger with time and they aren’t second-tier stories like the previous era of gaming had been.  

-Jordan