This week LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will join the massive canon of Star Wars games and stand alongside some true titans. Which are the best journeys to the galaxy far, far away?
For almost as long as Star Wars has existed, so too have Star Wars games, starting with 1982’s The Empire Strikes Back on Atari 2600 and Intellivision. They’ve served as some of the biggest influences on the franchise, alongside the supplementary novels and the West End Games tabletop RPG that birthed the “Expanded Universe.”
As we anticipate the arrival of the next big entry in the LEGO Star Wars line, let’s take stock of the last forty years and name our top five Star Wars games.
5. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008)
Any kid who grew up with Star Wars probably developed a pretty impressive Darth Vader impression. Even though he’s the bad guy, there’s always been a certain mystique about the Dark Side—such is its power, after all. LucasArts tripled down on this notion with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the ultimate Dark Side power fantasy.
As Vader’s secret apprentice/contingency plan, you scour the galaxy hunting down surviving Jedi and Rebel leaders with a full suite of Sith abilities. Everything culminates in a choice between Vader and Palpatine, with branching endings for each. The game was a pretty big success critically and financially, and was supported by post-launch bonus content that continued the non-canon “bad” timeline, pitting you against Luke and Obi-Wan.
LucasArts repeated this formula with its sequel in 2010 to somewhat diminishing returns, taking the Starkiller closer to the burgeoning Rebel Alliance and providing more alternate universe missions. However, these two Star Wars games stand as definitive “Dark Side” experiences (and you can soon play the original again on Switch).
4) Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (2003)
Windows 95 was home to countless attempts to copy the success of Doom, and not even Star Wars could resist the pull of this fad. Star Wars: Dark Forces released in 1995 and introduced us to Kyle Katarn, a Rebel mercenary who would go on to become a Jedi in its 1997 sequel. Katarn’s series completely changed focus over the next two games, shifting away from the Doom-like feel and culminating in Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy.
Katarn took a supporting role to the playable character, Jaden Korr, his apprentice at Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy on Yavin IV. Players could choose Jaden’s race and gender, and customize their abilities and fighting style over the course of the game. The story also allowed players to choose their own path through the story, while tying into the Expanded Universe in a way most other games did not.
At the time, it was one of the best representations of the Jedi path in Star Wars games, finally realizing the potential that the Dark Forces series had aspired to years prior. After partaking in many hours of lightsaber battles in its predecessor’s modded online scene, Jedi Academy felt to me like a culmination of everything the license could do.
3) Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)
The Star Wars name alone is not enough to carry a video game, as proven by many games released since Disney acquired LucasFilm ten years ago. Respawn Entertainment’s Jedi: Fallen Order shook off the curse of EA microtransactions at last, however, and delivered one of the best experiences in Star Wars games yet.
You play as Cal Kestis, a padawan who survived Order 66 and has been living in hiding since. The trauma of losing his master has severed most of his connection to the Force, and he must rebuild it as he meets up with a fellow Jedi exile and embarks on a quest to hide the identities of other potential Force-users. Gameplay-wise, Fallen Order falls into the “Souls-like” category, with a marked degree of difficulty and enemies that respawn when you use a save point to regroup.
Carried by a terrific cast, led by Cameron Monaghan, and featuring one of the cutest damn droids ever created, Fallen Order tied together the eras of Star Wars while providing a solid gameplay experience unlike anything the franchise had done yet. With a strong response from critics and fans, and outstanding sales, it restored some hope in EA’s custodianship over the franchise and is set to spearhead a new trio of Star Wars games from Respawn.
2) TIE Fighter (1994)
With source material as epic as Star Wars, you can branch off into many different genres of games focused on individual aspects of the movies. Over four games, the X-Wing series honed in on the experience of flying starfighters, and its highest point is Star Wars: TIE Fighter.
This sequel shifted perspective to the Empire. As a rookie Imperial cadet, you embark upon a campaign of missions against the Rebels, and then against a traitorous faction of other Imperials. With only a handful of characters (including Grand Admiral Thrawn, a fan favourite who had recently debuted in novels) and point-and-click areas to interact with between missions, it managed to tell an absolutely massive story for its time; the definitive CD-ROM edition contained thirteen chapters and a huge amount of voice acting.
During missions, and depending on the model of TIE Fighter, players could manipulate their engines, shields, and weapons to gain an advantage and complete specific objectives—not always destroying their targets, but sometimes disabling them for capture. Completing bonus objectives would earn you an invitation to the Emperor’s secret inner circle (and a cool tattoo to show your membership to this exclusive club).
It’s not just one of the best Star Wars games of all time, it’s a fierce contender for best flight sim of all-time, even if it’s a space dogfighter set in a fictional universe.
1) Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Before Mass Effect and Dragon Age, BioWare struck gold with their ambitious RPG Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which went further back into the series’ past than any other game or movie had done to date. Its battle system adapted traditional tabletop RPG mechanics into digital form, with attack and skill checks determined behind the scenes by the roll of a d20 and your characters’ modifiers.
Knights of the Old Republic showed us the galaxy 4000 years before A New Hope, including trips to many iconic locales like Tatooine, Coruscant, and Kashyyyk. The player’s character is caught in the crossfire when their Republic cruiser is attacked by Sith soldiers who capture the Jedi Bastila Shan. You’re caught up in the effort to rescue her and become embroiled in a conflict between the Jedi and two Sith Lords, Darth Revan and Darth Malak—with a dash of Mandalorians for good measure. Nearly twenty years later I’m still reeling from the Big Reveal partway through the game, and the possible fates of your excellent companions.
BioWare would go on to implement this d20-based approach in the first Mass Effect game (before removing the bugs that ensued from the Legendary Edition remaster), which cemented their place in the industry’s history. Perhaps owing to its legacy, KOTOR‘s MMO successor The Old Republic was one of the only existing Star Wars games (or any other media) to be held over when Disney bought LucasFilm and reset the canon slate.
But more importantly, Knights of the Old Republic and its Obsidian-developed sequel truly had everything Star Wars games could aspire to: presenting all the various facets of the property well, investing players personally, and telling a story worthy of film. It will be exciting to see how all the innovations it inspired will be rolled back into its upcoming PS5-exclusive remake.
Of course, this ranking of Star Wars games could very well shift over the next weeks as LEGO’s Skywalker Saga will come out of the gate swinging with a refined engine and a sprawling campaign covering all nine theatrical episodes and more. Stay tuned to CGMagazine this week for our official review and a couple of other surprises!