A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…a 33 year old filmmaker unleashed his latest film Star Wars onto an unsuspecting populace. Now, almost 40 years later that same film is part of the biggest movie franchise of all time, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Perhaps the biggest money spinner in the Star Wars universe – besides the films themselves, and the toys – is the video game empire the brand has built over the last 34 years. From movie spin-offs to stand alone, expanded universe adventures, there’s been no shortage of Star Wars video games, and more still to come.
In this first of several retrospectives, we look back at the complete history of the video game universe, starting with those formative years 1982 – 1989.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Parker Brothers, 1982)
If you like your snowspeeder’s all pink and unrecognizable, then the Parker Brothers first attempt to recreate the magic of Star Wars will be right up your street.
In this, the first officially licensed Star Wars video game, the player takes control of Luke Skywalker’s famous floating pink blob, as it battles waves of AT-AT Walkers on the planet of Hoth. Visually, it looks a lot like the piss poor ET game, but its way more fun – like a side scrolling Space Invaders – and considering that this was released 34 years ago it still isn’t the worst Star Wars game you could be playing.
Star Wars: Jedi Arena (Parker Brothers, 1983)
Parker Brothers’ follow up to 1982’s Empire Strikes Back was this bizarre Jedi training game in which you have to harness the power of the Seeker Ball to blast your opponent into oblivion.
Unsurprisingly, the game was met with massive apathy, and left many of us wanting to Force choke the life out of our parents for buying it. Also, it looked like two dudes sword fighting with their wangs.
Star Wars (Atari Inc, 1983)
After 2 relatively unsuccessful releases on the home computer market, Atari Inc stepped things up a notch by releasing the first Star Wars arcade game, and it was like a breath of fresh air.
Unlike the previous releases, the arcade game, which was ported to the Atari, Commodore, Amiga and Amstrad CPC shortly after, was fast paced, smoothly animated and true to the movies. In it you play Luke Skywalker, piloting his X-Wing Fighter on his way to blowing the shit out of the Death Star.
Unlike previous games, the player didn’t have to kill everything in sight, but instead simply survive to make it to the end, taking out as many Imperial scumbags as you can en route. Don’t believe how good this really was? Just check out how happy the guy in the ad was:
Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle (Parker Brothers, 1983)
Soar through space in a linear attempt to destroy a splodge of white on the horizon, narrowly avoiding death by dangerous driving over and over again.
Live out your childhood fantasy by hopping on board the shittiest looking Millennium Falcon sim ever. Really. It’s terrible. It looks more like Pac Man took ecstasy and threw a whitey.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Atari Inc, 1984)
After the success of the original, Atari took the SWU back into the arcades in 1984, with their adaptation of Return of the Jedi.
In this well received follow up, you get to navigate a speeder bike to the Ewok village, narrowly avoiding all the dead trees that litter the screen like giant turds, and pilot the Millennium Falcon (again, but less shit than before).
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari Inc, 1985)
Sadly, this was just an add on/mod for the first Star Wars arcade game and as a result bombed in the arcades because lazy arcade owners didn’t bother to buy it. It also looked horrible, even in 1985.
Scroll on folks. There’s nothing to see here.
Star Wars (Namco, 1987)
Step aside Parker Brothers, move over Atari because here comes Namco and they’re pissed!
Well, they may not have been pissed but they meant business. The Namco version, which appeared on the Famcom in time for Christmas, 1987, had it all. It had it’s own opening scrawl, it had a playable Luke, it had Hiroyuki Kawada. Oh, and it was balls out, bat shit crazy.
Unsurprisingly the totally non-cannon video game never really made it out of Japan which is a shame when you consider you get to battle Darth Vader as both a scorpion and a pig! That last bit should have actually read shark, not pig, but I was thinking about a pig at that moment and wrote it by mistake. But guess what? I’m leaving it in there, because quite frankly, Vader turning into a pig would not have been out of place in this totally bonkers (and brilliant) video game.
Star Wars: Droids (Binary Design, 1987)
Loosely based on the “hit” animated adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO, Droids by Binary Design, pits players as the iconic robots against the no good Fromm Gang, who intend to enslave you for their own nefarious needs. It is a mixture of arcade adventure and puzzle elements, and was also well known for its glitches. And it’s horrible reviews. And the fact that no one ever played it. Ever.
To coin a phrase, this is not the video game about Droids you are looking for.
And so ends part one of our complete history of the Star Wars video game universe. Join me next time as I have a nervous breakdown trying to write about the 1990’s, a period in which Star Wars games seemed to be released every other week.