The 20 Most Essential 'Star Wars' Video Games
Few cinematic franchises have offered up universes rich enough to thrive across multiple art forms, and it doesn't require Force powers to surmise that Star Wars is one of them. Like it has in movies, books, comics, and television, the ever-expanding sci-fi saga has prospered in the video game medium for more than 30 years by capitalizing on fans' desire to interact with the worlds they can't get enough of. With The Force Awakens just a week away from hitting theaters and the latest entry in the Battlefront franchise already here, let's use the opportunity to run through the most essential Star Wars video games ever made.
Star Wars (1983)
Picture it: a crowded arcade at your local mall, 1983, various bleeps and bloops co-mingling with the sounds of quarters clattering into slots, and a familiar voice rising above it all: Remember, the Force will be with you. Always. The first great Star Wars video game, with its simple vector graphics and static-ridden sound effects, may seem like a relic from a forgotten age, but wizened arcade Jedis know that the Atari coin-op classic is still more fun that bull's-eyeing womp rats back home.
Super Star Wars (1992)
This Super NES run-and-gun action title, which used major set pieces from across the original trilogy, would’ve made Contra fans cry out in frustration. Don’t believe us? Own a PS4? Pick up the recent Battlefront bundle. It includes a moderately polished version of the old-school title and proves that Super Star Wars is still as difficult today as it was 23 years ago.
Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995)
Two decades ago, back when the notion of 3D environments was still blowing the minds of PC gamers, Star Wars got its inaugural first-person action title. Whereas genre-mates Wolfenstein 3D and Doom had provided a fairly linear experience, Dark Forces offered multi-level stages as well as the ability to jump, duck, and aim, at a time when looking up and down was still revolutionary. It also kicked off the story of Rebel mercenary Kyle Katarn, who’d wind up the hero in a long and successful run of Star Wars shooters.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996)
Shadows of the Empire, originally released on Nintendo 64, is not good enough to be remembered fondly and not bad enough to be remembered ironically. We may have overlooked the game entirely here were it not for the very first level: a snowy, pulse-pounding pursuit across Hoth that pits a single snowspeeder against an army of AT-ATs. Sadly, the levels that follow all feel like something from a much different, much lesser game.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (1997)
The beginning of the franchise’s hilarious descent into subtitle soup, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II finds Kyle Katarn hell-bent on avenging his father’s murder. The second Dark Forces entry improved on the original's mechanics, offering tiered Force powers and complex saber-play. A subsequent expansion pack, Mysteries of the Sith, put players in control of one of Star Wars' most popular expanded-universe characters: Luke Skywalker's wife, Mara Jade.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998)
Adapted from a series of comics, this arcade-style game put players in control of a variety of X-wing variations, including the A-, Y-, and V-wings, as well as the iconic snowspeeder. Rogue Squadron, which was praised at the time for its smooth, intuitive flight controls, dazzled players with its time-jumping, mission-based storyline spanning most of Star Wars’ greatest hits. The single-player title made its biggest splash on the Nintendo 64, pushing the console’s hardware to its limits and kicking off an eventual trilogy.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer (1999)
Amid an unending steam of action titles, shooters, and RPGs, Star Wars attempted its own version of a Mario Kart-style racer, inspired by the first prequel's memorable pod race. That PC and Nintendo 64 game's enormous success led to a 2002 PlayStation 2 sequel, Star Wars Racer Revenge, and the outlandishly cartoonish 2002 PS2 romp Super Bombad Racing. For the most part, each of these comparatively frivolous games took a backseat to other, more "serious" Star Wars video games, but they delivered family-friendly fun in their own right.
Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (2001)
The sequel to Rogue Squadron kept the format of the original but harnessed the power of a next-gen console as a Nintendo GameCube launch title. The stunning result drew from all three original-trilogy films, letting players pilot multiple spacecraft, including the Millennium Falcon
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (2002)
Capitalizing on advances in PC-processing power since 1997’s Dark Forces II, Kyle Katarn’s next adventure delivered a smoother, shinier experience, and pretty much ruled. Jedi Outcast had the most balanced gameplay of the Jedi Knight series, and is diminished only by a less-than-mind-blowing plot that pitted Katarn against a generic Sith baddie.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
RPGs don't tend to be mainstream-gamer material, but BioWare’s 2003 masterpiece may very well rank as the single most satisfying Star Wars game to date. A deeply engrossing story, an incredible stable of heroes and villains, and a surprising mid-game twist made Knights of the Old Republic a stand-out in any medium. The game provided players with a massive world and a huge array of paths to follow. Your choices shaped the universe around you -- good or bad, Light or Dark -- and the level of interactivity from the combat to your companions made this one a true Star Wars deep dive.
Star Wars Galaxies (2003)
Prior to the release of The Old Republic in 2011, Star Wars Galaxies had made its name as the ruling massive multiplayer game for nearly eight years. Developed by LucasArts and Sony Online Entertainment, Galaxies offered up a dense gaming experience, blending combat and exploration, crafting and economy systems, professions, classes, bounties, vehicles, and other complex mechanics. Though TheOld Republic would eventually streamline many of these systems with a more newb-friendly coat of paint, hardcore MMO fans embraced Galaxies as the defining simulation of a life far, far away.
Star Wars: Battlefront (2004)
Released in 2004, the first entry in the Battlefront series built upon the multiplayer elements of previous Star Wars titles, namely the Jedi Knight series. But where those games had focused on creating a compelling single-player narrative, Battlefront aimed for complete, connected, online immersion. Scattering players across four warring factions, the game enacted wide-scale multiplayer mayhem across authentic, fully realized environments.
Star Wars: Battlefront II (2005)
With Battlefront II, the franchise failed to innovate wildly upon its successful multiplayer formula, but adding new vehicles, weapons, characters, and missions, not to mention an improved single-player mode, was enough. While the Battlefront series will never be known for adding much to the Star Wars narrative, the second installment dropped players into classic franchise moments from the POV of a former Stormtrooper. That’s cool.
Star Wars: Republic Commando (2005)
Where Star Wars fans already had more than a few first-person shooters to choose from, Republic Commando added a much-needed tactical element into the mix. Players commanded a four-person team of elite, battle-hardened Clones, issuing orders to their computer-controlled squad-mates. Battle planning and environment awareness were key components in Republic Commando, which further shook up the formula by setting its story in the Clone Wars prequel era.
LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006)
There’s a graceful simplicity to the story and themes of the first Star Wars trilogy, due to its strict adherence to mythic storytelling structure. So it’s little surprise that a colorful collection of muttering plastic blocks somehow manages to recreate the narrative perfectly (and hilariously) in pantomime. A blast for kids and adults alike, this LEGO retelling is both fun and funny to a ridiculous degree.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008)
Unveiled for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in late 2008, The Force Unleashed provided what may still be the ultimate third-person action title in the Star Wars franchise. The brand had been flooded with first-person shooters, multiplayer mash-ups, flight sims, and RPGs, but a high-tech, story-driven slash-‘em-up was long overdue. The moral progression of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice Starkiller was at the heart of the game’s story, but at the center of its success was liquid-smooth saber combat and world-shattering physics. Using the Force to destroy the environment around you (virtually!) has never felt so satisfying.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011)
Launched in 2011, BioWare’s (sometimes overly) ambitious Star Wars MMO literally offered players “the world.” Expanding on the formula of Warcraft, Everquest, and other popular MMO universes -- including the aforementioned Star Wars Galaxies -- The Old Republic let an entire population of gamers loose in a single, interconnected galaxy. While the post-release road was occasionally bumpy, the in-depth mechanics and environments gave players a virtual cantina in which to meet, explore, and war between themselves.
Kinect Star Wars (2012)
Let’s be honest: Kinect Star Wars is a bad game, and quite possibly even a terrible one. But let’s also admit that, at some point in our lives, we’ve all attempted to use the Force -- in private, by ourselves, arms outstretched, and wondering if we could levitate the television remote across the room and into our hands. At the very least, the motion-sensing peripheral for the Xbox allowed us to live out that fantasy in a slightly more acceptable context.
Angry Birds Star Wars (2012)
It would be easy to dismiss this mobile release as a corporate cash-in if we hadn’t spent so much time playing it. Certainly, the Angry Birds craze had reached full zenith by the time the powers-that-be decided to slap on the ol’ Star Wars branding. But like the LEGO games before them, the cartoonish riff on our childhood nostalgia featured some legitimately inventive gameplay mechanics and made these Angry Birds significantly happier.
Star Wars Battlefront (2015)
With nearly a decade separating 2005’s Battlefront II and its newly released follow-up, the popular series has doubled-down on its multiplayer roots with this reboot. Battlefront boasts the most detailed, visually compelling Star Wars environments ever created and, taking pages from popular online shooters such as Call of Duty and Halo, combines detailed leveling and perk systems with a deeply immersive array of characters, weapons, and vehicles. If you ever wanted to take out an X-wing by Force-pushing a rebel into its blazing engines, this is the game for you.
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Christopher Monfette is a longtime entertainment journalist and bounty hunter with absolutely no problems shooting first. Follow him far, far away: @cwmonfette.