Star Wars video games: A visual history

We recap the last 27 years of video games based on George Lucas's enormously influential Star Wars franchise.

  • 1993

    The space-sim X-Wing not only establishes a now-classic PC franchise but helps make a genre of games popular. Unlike the earlier Wing Commander, X-Wing has a 3D engine. Putting you behind the flight yoke of Rebel Alliance fighters, the game offers missions that aren't based directly on events in the films. Later that year, its expansions, Imperial Pursuit and B-Wing, appear. Rebel Assault, chronicling the adventures of "Rookie One," is Star Wars' first trip into full-motion video and has scenes from the films. Star Wars Chess, a game modeled on PC classic BattleChess, also comes out. Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back continues the franchise's newfound platforming excellence for the SNES.
  • 2002

    Attack of the Clones sees another movie-inspired push of multiplatform games: one based on the movie; Jedi Starfighter (PS2, Xbox), an improved sequel of Starfighter that incorporates Force powers; The Clone Wars (PS2, Xbox, GC); Clone Campaigns (PC), a prequel-themed expansion for Galactic Battlegrounds; and Bounty Hunter (PS2, GC), an action title staring the baddest bounty-hunting daddy in the galaxy, Jango Fett. On the original-trilogy side, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (PC) has Katarn giving up his Jedi abilities after flirting with the Dark Side in the previous game. But upon uncovering another Dark Jedi plot, he returns to the Order to stop it.
  • 2004

    Applying the Battlefield 1942 formula to Star Wars, Battlefront (PS2, Xbox, GC, PC) throws players into large-scale infantry battles (Rebel vs. Empire or Republic vs. Separatist) with vehicles and heroes (such as Jedi or Darth Vader). Obsidian Studios took the reins for Knights of the Old Republic II (Xbox, PC), and while it's an enjoyable game, it suffers from some issues-most notably, Obsidian's rush to meet a deadline and culling of content intended for the final product. (PC players are attempting to restore the cut content via a patch.) Apprentice of the Force (GBA) is another platforming take on the original trilogy. Galaxies expansion Jump to Lightspeed (PC) adds space combat to the MMO.
  • 1992

    This marks the revitalization of Star Wars video games. Super Star Wars fixes many of the issues of the first Star Wars platformers, mixing fun gameplay with the then-stunning visuals of the Super Nintendo and music from the classic John Williams score. The Empire Strikes Back also comes to the NES and Game Boy.
  • 2000

    The onslaught of Episode I-themed games continues: Jedi Power Battles (PS, DC), The Battle for Naboo (N64, PC), and Obi-Wan's Adventures (GBC). LucasArts also attempts to cash-in on the Twisted Metal craze with Demolition (PS, DC). They also make their first real-time strategy game, the uneven Force Commander (PC). The PC educational games march on with Star Wars Math.
  • 1999

    The onslaught of Episode I-themed games continues: Jedi Power Battles (PS, DC), The Battle for Naboo (N64, PC), and Obi-Wan's Adventures (GBC). LucasArts also attempts to cash-in on the Twisted Metal craze with Demolition (PS, DC). They also make their first real-time strategy game, the uneven Force Commander (PC). The PC educational games march on with Star Wars Math.
  • 2007

    The PSP's Battlefront: Renegade Squadron stars a covert-ops group of mainly "fringe types" recruited by Han Solo. Renegade Squadron takes on ground and space missions mostly during and between Empire and Jedi.
  • 2005

    The game based on Revenge of the Sith hits every platform, including Nintendo's new handheld, the Nintendo DS. Galaxies receives two expansions, the Trials of Obi-Wan and Rage of the Wookies (PC), based on elements of the new film. Republic Commando (Xbox, PC) is the franchise's first squad-based shooter and follows a group of elite clone troopers during the Clone Wars. Battlefront II (PS2, Xbox, PSP, PC) expands upon the large-scale infantry battles by adding dogfights in space. The most significant game this year is Lego Star Wars, the cute co-op platformer-puzzler that comes out of nowhere to charm kids and adults with its sometimes silly gameplay.
  • 1987

    After a four-year gaming drought, Star Wars, a Famicom adaptation of A New Hope, appears only in Japan. It takes a number of liberties with the plot; one of Darth Vader's Sith abilities turns him into... a scorpion.
  • Star Wars from Atari to Intellivision

    Star Wars is the most prolific franchise in gaming history. Its games -- 88 if you include each expansion and arcade game -- appear on every console and home computer and reach into every genre, from arcade shooter to strategy games. It features smart role-playing games, addicting shooters, and has even turned games into multimedia events. While not beyond cashing in on popular trends, LucasArts' development of the Star Wars franchise mirrors the growth and increasing sophistication of the industry. The following history of Star Wars games goes through the very first title on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision to 2009's The Force Unleashed.

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  • 1998

    Faction 5's Rogue Squadron (N64, PC) sets a new standard for the space sim on consoles; its plot shows the growing influence of Expanded Universe content with the inclusion of the First Battle of Mon Calamari from the comic Dark Empire. Star Wars also makes its turn-based strategy debut with Rebellion (PC), where players vie to take over the galaxy as either the Empire or the Rebels. Mysteries of the Sith (PC), the expansion for 1997's Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, brings another popular Expanded Universe character, Mara Jade, to the realm of gaming (as Katarn's apprentice and redeemer). DroidWorks (PC) turns children into droid designers, putting their creations in learning-based missions
  • 1995

    Dark Forces (PC) throws Star Wars into the first-person shooter realm-and adds to Star Wars canon with Imperial-officer-turned-Rebel-merc Kyle Katarn, who must stop the Empire's attempt to create droid "supersoldiers." Instead of licensing the Doom engine, LucasArts creates its own "Jedi" engine. Rookie One returns in Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire (PC). A distress call leads to Rookie One stumbling upon a secret project that could doom the Rebel Alliance.
  • 2006

    Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (multiplatform) takes everything that made the first Lego Star Wars fun and makes it better, throwing in even more humorous references to the original movies. The RTS Empire at War (PC) also appears; while it's the best Star Wars strategy game, it suffers from repetitive combat that relies more on blunt force than strategic wiles. Its sequel, Forces of Corruption, introduces a fringe faction and Super Star Destroyers. Lethal Alliance (PSP, DS) tasks you with-again-stealing the Death Star plans. It also features stealth-based gameplay and puzzle-solving minigames.
  • 2008

    The Force Unleashed builds on the Shadows of the Empire multimedia effort to fill in holes in the original trilogy-in this case, the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Darth Vader fosters his own apprentice, Starkiller, without Palpatine's knowledge-to be his tool to dethrone the Emperor. It's the first HD game in the franchise and the first with downloadable content. It's also the fastest-selling Star Wars console game to date. A pair of games debut in the style of the forthcoming Clone Wars cartoon. Lightsaber Duels uses the Wii's motion controls, but since this is before Wii Motion Plus, it's just not very accurate. Jedi Alliance (DS) turns out to be a surprisingly well- made action game.
  • 1982

    Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600/Intellivision). This is the first of many Star Wars video games. It's a simple take on the Battle of Hoth: Take on AT-ATs in your snowspeeder and blast their glowing, shifting weak points
  • 1991

    Star Wars returns to home consoles with a side-scrolling platforming take on A New Hope (NES, Sega Master System, Game Boy, Game Gear). It stays much closer to the source material than the previous Famicom release.
  • 1983

    Star Wars (Arcade): Featuring sound effects and voice tracks from A New Hope, this vector-graphic game ranks among the most beloved arcade games of the early 1980s. Ports appear for various home PCs, the Atari consoles, and the ColecoVision. In Jedi Arena (Atari 2600), each player has a lightsaber and tries to redirect blasts from a Millennium Falcon-style floating seeker to the other player. Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle (Atari 2600, 5200, Atari 8-bit, ZX Spectrum) lets you fly the Falcon in the Battle of Endor.
  • 2009

    The plot of The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes, featuring a new villain from the Separatists, bridges Seasons 1 and 2 of the cartoon. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed- Ultimate Sith Edition combines DLC missions and exclusive content that later become available as DLC.
  • 2003

    For the first time, Star Wars enters the realm of RPGs. Galaxies: An Empire Divided (PC) is Star Wars' first MMO. It receives positive reception, but gameplay changes in 2005 result in an uproar from players from which the game has never recovered. More significant, the BioWare-developed Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox, PC) amazes gamers with its morality system and story of betrayal and war. This epic tale of the Jedi Civil War 4,000 years before A New Hope not only launches a series-a sequel and an upcoming MMO, The Old Republic-but also carves out its own place in Star Wars Expanded Universe canon with comic books and other products. Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike (N64) features more on-foot missions and co-op play consisting of missions from Rogue Leader. Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (PC) pits Katarn's Jedi apprentice against a Sith cult (like other games in the series, it features endings for the Light Side and Dark Side). In Flight of the Falcon (GBA), you fly the Millennium Falcon as you fight Han Solo's nemesis Boba Fett and his ship, Slave 1, and fly down a trench of a Super Star Destroyer. Star Wars: Starfighter also comes to arcades.
  • 1994

    TIE Fighter (PC) is the first Star Wars game that lets you play from the Empire's point of view. It also improves on the X-Wing formula and is more challenging, especially since three of the five Imperial fighters in the game lack shields. The expansion, Defender of the Empire, is the first game where Darth Vader flies as is your wingman. What makes Super Return of the Jedi (SNES) stand out is how it allows you to select your character before a level. The horrible Star Wars Arcade, a 3D shoot-em-up for the Sega Genesis' misguided 32X hardware extension, pales in comparison to the PC space sims.
  • 1988

    Two more games based on the original movies debut: The Empire Strikes Back (PC), which turns the Battle of Hoth and the Falcon's escape in the asteroid field into a vector-graphics game, and Return of the Jedi (PC), a vehicle-based arcade shooter. The cartoon Droids even gets a game: Escape from Aaron (PC), a mix of role-playing game, platformer, and puzzler
  • 2001

    Star Wars hits a new generation of consoles in 2001 with prequel-trilogy games Obi-Wan (Xbox) and Starfighter (PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC). LucasArts joins the kart-racing craze with Super Bombad Racing (PS2). Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GC) continues to set the standard for starfighter sims on consoles. Galactic Battlegrounds, a PC RTS based on the Age of Empires engine, also debuts.
  • 1997

    X-Wing goes multiplayer with X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (PC). While a number of players dig the online dogfights, some are upset about the lack of a campaign. The expansion, Balance of Power, addresses this. Yoda Stories (PC) is LucasArts' first attempt at making a game geared for younger kids. Star Wars also makes its first foray into fighting games with the horribly controlling Masters of Teräs Käsi (PlayStation). Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (PC) is the first Star Wars game where you face a moral decision. Katarn, now a Jedi adept, sets out to avenge his father, who was killed by a Dark Jedi. His choice determines whether or not he falls to the Dark Side. Star Wars Monopoly (PC) also appears
  • 1996

    Lucas applies the movie's multimedia strategy to gaming with Shadows of the Empire (N64, PC), which for the first time chronicles a story sandwiched between Empire and Jedi. It features Dash Rendar, a Rebel agent who thwarts criminal overlord Prince Xizor from replacing Darth Vader at the Emperor's side and ending the Rebel Alliance. Shadows arrives with an accompanying novel, comic, soundtrack, and toys.
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