Jedi: Fallen Order
I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent much of my childhood wanting to be a Jedi. My sister and I would duel for hours in the backyard with our plastic lightsabers, having to pause between whacks and parries to negotiate whose limbs were still attached or how far back we were supposed to move when the other pushed with the Force. As a teenager, The Force Unleashed on the Wii was magic: my remote was my lightsaber, my nunchuk was my connection to the Force, and the galaxy was filled with Stormtroopers to send flying. (Too bad it kind of sort of isn’t canon.) Now, as an adult and a whole sequel trilogy and two seasons of The Mandalorian later — not to mention the nine seasons of The Clone Wars that I’m still catching up on — I’m all in on Star Wars growing up with me, learning how to tell new and more mature stories. Jedi: Fallen Order is exactly that, putting the player at the center of a decent Jedi story with slick Jedi combat.
Jedi: Fallen Order takes place during The Purge, which for the uninitiated is a period of Star Wars history just after the majority of Jedi are executed by their clone allies in Revenge of the Sith (Order 66). The fledgling Empire casts the few Jedi who survive as traitors to the Republic, hunting them down to either kill them or turn them to the Dark Side as Inquisitors (ex-Jedi who hunt Jedi). You play as Cal Kestis, a padawan who experienced deep personal loss and trauma during Order 66 and has been concealing his powers to survive The Purge. Other major characters include Cere Junda, an ex-Jedi Master who severed her connection with the Force after an especially traumatic event during The Purge, and a Nightsister whose people were killed in genocide during the Clone Wars. This is a Star Wars story where nobody’s okay and the heroes are the ones who are brave enough to believe in one another as they heal.
The gameplay absolutely does what it needs to do to make you feel like a Jedi, from customizing your lightsaber to dueling against powerful adversaries to bonding with a droid companion. I think all of those things were non-negotiables for a modern Star Wars game, and as such, it suffices to say that Jedi: Fallen Order does them well. What’s really special about this game is how cool it makes you feel despite Cal not being the greatest of Jedi. He’s hidden his abilities for years, presumably. At best, he’s just rusty and has forgotten a lot of his training; at worst, his trauma and guilt pushes his connection with the Force towards fear and unpolished lack of control. In the early stages of the game, Cal can’t even move stuff around with the Force; he can wall-run, however (Respawn just couldn’t resist sprinkling in a little Titanfall, could they?). His best ability, psychometry, makes him a better anthropologist than Stormtrooper-slayer: he can sense an object’s history by touching it, filling out the backstory of the different planets and societies he interacts with.
The five playable planets in this galaxy far, far away are largely linear, keeping you moving towards your next plot point. There’s not a side quest to be seen, and the only exploration Cal can do is to veer off the main path for a slightly less obvious path where he might find a secret or unlockable cosmetic. (As an aside, I love that Cal wears ponchos — as opposed to, I don’t know, Jedi robes? — but I can’t get over how over half of them are badly-fitting, hoodless, plastic raincoats.) 100%-ing Jedi: Fallen Order is a fine and relatively quick experience (except for the very Star Wars and very bad holomaps), revisiting planets when equipped with new Force abilities to get into previously inaccessible nooks and crannies. This feels less like a chore and more like virtual space-tourism, giving players a second chance to appreciate the beautifully crafted set design and try out the very nicely implemented photo mode.
All in all, Jedi: Fallen Order does what it came to do: put players in the shoes of a Jedi powered by the best of what 2019 tech could offer. The experience certainly feels more self-contained and linear than what we may have hoped, but it’s good for what it is. With EA’s Star Wars exclusivity now expired, maybe Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment will give us the beautiful, open-world Star Wars playground of little-Josh’s dreams.
I know this isn’t a bug but it’s so bad that I’m calling it one: every sad excuse for a Wookiee in this game (except Tarfull) looks like a stick with clumpy fur. To the developers at Respawn, Chewbacca would be disappointed in you.