The Secret Of Star Wars

There are plenty of theories as to why the original Star Wars trilogy has been so successful. Analysis of its "hero's journey", its appeal to young and old alike, its timeless tale of good vs evil.

I subscribe to a lesser-known theory. That it's been such a big hit because the original three films were so dirty.

A lot of science fiction material produced, whether it be on the silver screen, in comics or in video games, tends to come off looking clichéd. Indistinguishable from countless other examples in the genre. Cheap, flimsy and clean.

Designers and producers (at least when not hamstrung by tiny budgets) usually think this makes something look sleeker, more futuristic, but what it actually does it make it look fake. Artificial. Like the set or make-believe product it is. You never get the sense that it is a world in which people live, which they inherited from their forefathers, and which they'll pass on to their kids. Which limits your ability to really lose yourself in the universe.

The visual design of Star Wars, at least the original three films, did something else. The ships, built from random pieces of plastic model kits, looked like things that not only functioned, but had been doing so for years (to be fair, it was not the first to take this approach, as Thunderbirds did something similar). Its people sometimes looked like they needed a bath, or a haircut, or a hug. Places like Mos Eisley reminded us that science fiction doesn't always have to be about monstrous cities and space stations; it can be about shitty little pubs full of people who smuggle drugs for a living and who with a wrong move can get their arm cut off.

In short, it was a universe that looked like one that had actually existed for millennia, and we were only now just getting the chance to peek in through its windows.

The latest trilogy, and almost everything based on them since, has forgotten that. Like an old episode of Star Trek, it often looks like an elaborate stage production of a boring space opera, instead of presenting us with a world we could imagine ourselves actually living in, flaws and all.

Sadly, it's a fate many Star Wars games based on both trilogies have also forgotten. Too many developers over the years have thought including the words "Jedi" and "Empire" were enough to ground their works in the look and feel of Star Wars, when really, they were doing nothing of the sort.

Above you'll find a few of the games that, like the original trilogy, got it right, not only dropping you into the middle of the Star Wars universe, but making you feel like you were really up to your eyeballs in it.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

X-Wing - As pedantic and full of incidental detail as a hardcore flight simulator, only this was in the Star Wars universe. The fact it coupled space combat with a power management system that bordered on strategic made it a blast to play, but what really made it stand out was that, from training missions to funerals, you felt like you were actually living the day-to-day of a Rebel pilot.

Tie Fighter - Maintaining the day-to-day that made X-Wing so special (only with roles reversed, as you're now with the Empire), Tie Fighter goes further by delivering a series of complex and mature campaign storylines that both look and feel like they actually took place on the periphery of the original film trilogy

Dark Forces - While later games in the Jedi Knight series were perhaps more enjoyable, since you had you fancy powers, Dark Forces was a guided tour of the filthy underbelly of the Star Wars universe. Literally, as you end up in a sewer system for a level. As a gun for hire - not a Jedi, and not a pilot - you get a rare look at life as a grunt on the Rebel side, seeing things from the original trilogy at ground level you often don't get to see, like marketplaces, commercial centres and the inside of Rebel bases and Star Destroyers.

Knights of the Old Republic - No Star Wars game has ever thrust you deeper into the fabric of the universe than this. Over tens of hours of RPG gameplay, you'll feel like you've seen half the galaxy, good and bad, clean and dirty, epic and mundane. Just like a real world should.


    "Over tens of hours of gameplay"

    Sorry Luke but I suppressed my gag reflex when I read that sentence.

    Whats wrong with "over 20 hours of gameplay?"

      I think he meant "across tens of hours of gameplay".

      Perhaps "dozens of hours" would have made more sense.

    This is not a new theory. In fact, I'm pretty sure Lucas himself has said this in interviews.

    Yeah it was a GL design decision. Nothing new here at all.

    The problem with Lucas and games these days is the blanket ban on post ROTJ games like Jedi Knight 2 Outcast. Instead they've gone the dogmatic narrow minded view of an empire and said "You like Clone Wars, therefore have this shovelware"

    It's high time that another space combat game like X-wing/TIE fighter and their sequels were made. For me the pinnacle of Star Wars gaming is Outcast and X-wing Alliance. I can play those games over and over without once feeling bored.

      I agree... the Jedi Knight and X-wing/TIE Fighter games were/are the best Star Wars games I've ever played. I LOVED X-wing: Alliance but *just* after I got recruited into the rebellion my crappy computer that I had at the time gave up the ghost and then by the time I got another computer to install it on my 'Disc 1' was missing.

      Turns out my cousin stole it. (He was ignorant of the fact that you need all the discs to install the game... *sigh*) So yeah... I never got to finish it and it still haunts me to this day.

      I keep hoping it'll pop up on Steam or, but that's not looking likely :-/

    Dirty is what makes many other sci-fi greats stand out.
    Bladerunner is the biggest iwnner out of this with everything in the city looking old and used especially the people. And we all know this is the biggest inspiration for one of our all time favourite games Deus Ex.

    Sorry but this theory is in no way original or new.

    There were a lot of commentators at the original Star Wars release that noted the "Old Future" set design and it's been extrapolated enough times since.

    It is still a good point though, and it definitely makes it immersive.

    Couldn't agree more. The space grunge theory is what I've been saying for years, though this is the first time I've heard anybody else mention it.

    Aside from some crappy scripting and a certain unforgivable CGI character I think this is one of the big reasons the new trilogy just didn't feel like Star Wars

    I watched EpIV again today, and was thinking the EXACT same thing, the universe immediately looks completely real, all the stuff looks well used, it makes a huge difference.

    I think you're completely right. The original Star Wars trilogy felt real, especially when you look at things like the interior of the clunky Millenium Falcon, the tight corridors of Echo Base and the gereral filthiness of Jabba's Palace. With the prequal trilogy, and especially in the Clone Wars animated series; everything is overly clean and neat. None of it feels real at all.

    KOTOR is possibly my fav game ever. I still haven't got so sucked into a game like that one. My mum near snapped there disc in half.

    Tie fighter is up there too. I used to dim the lights and pretend I was in a real tie

    Tie Fighter is also up there. I used to turn off the lights

    KOTOR rocked my world! I quit my job and ignored my gf for a week straight while I sat on a bean-bag and played this game from sun-rise to sun-set. What a game!

    Never really thought about it, but you're right. The movies did feel like they were more believable because everything wasn't pristine.

    The Rogue Squadron games were class too, but no mention of them...

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