I wouldn’t say that I am a die-hard Star Wars fan, but I have seen all the films and have enjoyed each one at least to some degree. That being said, I have a lot of issues when it comes to Disney’s latest Skywalker trilogy, and even the two spinoffs weren’t perfect. Star Wars has felt like it has always had an identity crisis on the big screen, whether it’s wrestling with how much CGI to put in, how many cute characters the older viewers will tolerate, or how much of the expanded universe to shove in.
There is a careful balance that has to be considered due to how massive of a franchise Star Wars really is, and I found that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was the best Star Wars movie I have seen in decades. I say movie because video games are much closer to movies than comics or books.
I have not read any of the expanded universe media, so I don’t want to unjustly say that none of that stuff had great moments. My point is that, for a video game that no one had any expectations of, Respawn was somehow able to make Fallen Order tell an engaging story set in the Star Wars universe and make it fit well with the core principles of the franchise.
For a group of fans that typically send death threats to actors and directors to be happy with something like this is truly a feat. But how did Respawn do it? What makes Fallen Order so special from a narrative perspective?
The cast of characters present in this game are just as fun as many of the movie narratives. Cal is one of, if not the, most likable protagonist in any of the Star Wars movies. He has a complicated past this is constantly a part of his Jedi journey. Cere, the Jedi master who turned away from the force, has her own troubles to overcome.
Then there are the more comic relief characters with BD-1, Cal’s constant companion, Greez, the shipmaster and curmudgeon with a kind heart, and Second Sister, Trilla Suduri, who was betrayed by her former master and was overcome by the Dark side. Every character serves a purpose and doesn’t overstay their welcome.
Cal is the focus and so he is the the one the player will become the most intimately familiar with. Cere and the Nightsister are also interesting, but they come second to Cal and will be intertwined with his journey. Greez mostly stays to the ship and offers quips, but he’ll never become super outgoing, wishing to be a larger part of the story.
Then there are appearances from some very familiar characters from the broader Star Wars universe like Saw and Vader. These characters were handled well and fit with how we knew them from that period of time in the universe. Including this many new characters with the familiar ones in the background is a tough order to get right. However, Fallen Order is able to do it masterfully, where many other stories like Solo, Rogue One, and The Force Awakens all attempted the same with mixed results.
The Jedi’s Journey
Every major Star Wars story that focused on a Jedi protagonist inevitably looks at their relationship to the role of a Jedi, the force, and their own interpretation of their morals. Anakin, Luke, and Rey all had their challenges in their journey to become Jedi (some took longer than others).
Rey is the only Jedi in the movies that has such an exhaustive take at what this looks like during her training with Luke, Kylo Ren connections, and her final fights in Episode 9. There was definitely some good and definitely some bad ideas mixed in there, but the idea of the Force testing people has been there since Luke first visited Dagobah in Episode V.
These are important moments that give us a look into the character’s most private consciousness, and Fallen Order is able to wrestle with several important themes this way such as guilt, loss, and responsibility.
Getting the flashbacks to where Cal visits his former Master and relives the trainings that he repressed is so well done. Not only are we receiving a backstory and reconnecting with the force from a narrative point of view, but we are actually practicing and learning the game’s mechanics. Respawn intertwines the complexities of video games with the narrative of a Star Wars story really well here.
The best thing has to be that Cal actually changes during the course of the story. He starts out as a reluctant participate in the revival of the Jedi as he still is suffering from the guilt of his past, but as the events of the adventure unfold, Cal begins to see himself and his role differently.
He becomes wiser and is able to make much more mature decisions in situations that even Cere made missteps with. He, in many ways, becomes the true master by the end of Fallen Order while reminding Cere that running away from her own past is not an option.
Smart Use of the Force and Star Wars Universe
With a property as big and popular as Star Wars, it can be attractive to fit as many references as possible into it, but Fallen Order keeps things very much in line with its own story. The references to real events that it does make are usually kept to a bare minimum, like Yoda being mentioned once while the Mantis was one route to a planet or the fight with Darth Vader at the end. The fight makes sense since two known Jedi just broke into an important Empire facility and were causing havoc. Of course, Darth Vader is going to step in if he was nearby.
Cal has two unique force powers that are rare in force-sensitive users, which are time manipulation and understanding the history of objects through touch. The former is more a fun gameplay mechanic that helps once or twice in the story, but the latter not only gives the player a better understanding of the worlds they are exploring through echos but it also allows for full-on story events.
Nightsister loses her lightsaber to Cal near the end, and when Cal holds it, he feels everything that she went through when she surrendered to the dark side. It makes Cal more sympathetic not only to Trilla but also to Cere. His abilities are a form of empathy and understanding through objects and the people they connect. It’s a beautiful form of the force that is great to see Cal being able to use for the better. It goes hand in hand with his Jedi journey and allows him to grow appropriately.
Recently, it has felt like Star Wars is just making things up as it goes, squeezing as much into a single movie as possible, or using fanfare to keep the series going. Fallen Order challenges all of that as it feels like a grounded story that takes place within the series.
It may take place between episodes 3 and 4 and doesn’t make any real impact on the broader story, but it introduces characters that are both interesting and worth our time. I really hope that we can continue to see Cal, Cere, Greez, and Merrin as they explore the universe in opposition to the Empire. They are worth every moment they are on screen.