Have you bought your ticket for The Force Awakens yet? I’ve got mine, of course – I’ll be at the 00.01 showing on 17 December, lapping up the film that I hope will banish all memories of The Phantom Menace. And that possibly might reveal Jar Jar Binks to be a Sith Lord. I’m not holding out for that last one, mind you.
I was obsessed with Star Wars as a child in the eighties. I had dozens of Star Wars figures, harboured insane jealousy over my best friend’s AT-AT (he had the Millennium Falcon too, the jammy bastard), and I watched all three films on VHS until the tapes wore out.
Then The Phantom Menace happened.
I tried to convince myself it was good, I really tried. But in the weeks and months that followed, it became increasingly clear that this CGI mockery of a film had hit so wide of the mark that it actually tainted my love of Star Wars. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that.
The release of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith only served to distance me from the Star Wars universe even further. Not only that, a dreadful run of Star Wars video games through the 2000s – culminating in the horrific Star Wars Kinect dancing game – did a thorough job of dragging the franchise’s name through the mud. “Star Wars isn’t Star Wars any more,” I thought. The original trilogy was something of its time, something from my childhood that cannot be recaptured now. Conversely, some of my younger relations loved The Phantom Menace and enthusiastically purchased Jar Jar toys, which simply made me think that I’d outgrown Star Wars. “I guess it’s just for kids,” I thought.
But then the trailer for The Force Awakens dropped and suddenly I was a five year old all over again. I think I actually punched the air.
Finally, someone has remembered what made Star Wars great in the first place. Not only that, they’re making a movie that respects the original films along with the fans like me who grew up watching them. I’m in my thirties now and have a child of my own, but buried beneath all that dire adult responsibility is the still the excited, air-punching, Star Wars-loving child. And then in April this year, at about the same time that the second trailer dropped – when Han Solo said “we’re home” and half the geek world nearly vomited in excitement (me included) – some gameplay footage emerged that indicated someone has also remembered what made Star Wars video games great in the first place. (Hint: It’s not Princess Leia dancing to Christina Aguilera.)
The new Star Wars: Battlefront looks utterly astonishing. The highly detailed recreation of the planet Hoth and the mayhem of the Rebels’ last stand is something that the nine year old me could only dream of. I know that this game was made for me because I’ve already played it hundreds of times – except that the first time around the lightsabers and blasters were all imaginary, the planet Hoth was my school playground and the AT-AT was the big oak tree at the corner of the playing field.
Even now it astonishes me how good this game looks – a game that is essentially a re-enactment of the inside of my nine-year-old brain. It reminds me why video games are so bloody amazing.
But it also makes me very sad.
There’s been a surprising amount of negativity surrounding the new Star Wars: Battlefront, most of which has been of little concern to me. Some moaned that the Xbox One version was only 720p. I literally couldn’t give a crap about this. My telly is only 720p anyway, chiefly because most of my disposable income now has to be spent on boring grown-up things like pensions and childcare arrangements rather than expensive audio-visual set ups (although some meagre funds are quietly siphoned off for the odd video game purchase).
Some have complained that the new game doesn’t feature space battles like the original Star Wars: Battlefront did. Again, I couldn’t give a crap. And to be honest, I didn’t even know there was a previous Star Wars: Battlefront – the game came out during the post-Phantom Menace malaise when I had forsaken all things Star Wars, and it utterly passed me by. Also, it strikes me as ludicrously ambitious to attempt to sculpt a decent FPS and a decent space sim in one package – one of the genres is bound to lose out in quality.
Others have opined that the player cap is limited to 40. To be honest, 40 people sounds like a lot to me. But then again I don’t care how many people are playing at once because I’m not really into online multiplayer anyway.
And here we get to the crux of the matter.
I’m the person who bought Call of Duty: Modern Warfare for the single-player campaign and then traded it in when I’d finished without ever playing online. I’m the guy who plays 100 hour+ JRPGs and then discusses the storylines with friends. I’m the guy who raves about the clever plots in Spec Ops: The Line and Wolfenstein: The New Order and doesn’t give two hoots that those games don’t have a multiplayer component. I’m not the bloke who spend his evenings and weekends compulsively fragging teenagers and then teabagging them.
Yet Star Wars: Battlefront doesn’t have a single-player campaign. It turns out that despite looking like the wallpaper of my nine-year-old brain, this game wasn’t designed with me in mind after all.
For a start, I’m utterly shit at playing first-person shooters. I sometimes partake in lunchtime rounds of Half-Life 2 Deathmatch with my co-workers, and despite playing hundreds and hundreds of games, I’ve only ever won six. And the stats show that, if anything, I’m actually getting worse the more I play.
Now, this ineptness is no biggy when it comes to single player. I blundered my way through the campaign of Half-Life 2 quite happily, getting to know sections and how to overcome them gradually as I slowly made my way through. This gentle pace doesn’t apply to online multiplayer, however: no amount of matchmaking could ever account for my cackhandedness, which means I’m forced into a cliff-like learning curve, destined to die over and over again for naught.
Then there’s the fact that online games just don’t fit my thirty-something lifestyle as a new parent. Games that you cannot pause do not go with gameplay sessions that have to be snatched between naps and nappy changes, or that have to be interrupted to soothe crying infants.
But most importantly of all, the lack of a single-player campaign just makes it all seem so… shallow. In this universe, in this battle, I am NO-ONE. My character has no background, no character arc, no purpose other than to join battle. This is Star Wars reduced to nothing more than brawling. The gigantic story arc and the thousands of characters in this space opera are simply a backdrop to shooting each other in the face. I want to be a brave Rebel messenger fighting through enemy lines to deliver the plans to the Death Star. I want to be a plucky TIE Fighter pilot from a broken home who wishes to prove himself to Darth Vader and turn around his fortunes. I don’t want to be an extra in someone else’s war.
It’s a shame, because Star Wars: Battlefront looks utterly amazing – my childhood imagination made tangible, authentic blaster noises ‘n’ all. But this game hasn’t been made for me, it’s been made for trigger-happy teens with time to kill.
I guess Star Wars is for kids after all.