Though it’s no longer canon, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed still stands out as a groundbreaking piece of storytelling which ushered in a new age of emotional and character driven stories in the galaxy far, far away. The Force Unleashed arguably opened the door for the acceptance of The Clone Wars–which would debut a mere month later–and Star Wars Rebels. As a Star Wars fan, I found the game’s exploration of emotion as a huge driving force behind the decisions shaping the galaxy was profoundly moving. As the game turns 10 this year, let’s look back at how The Force Unleashed ushered in a new age of Star Wars. For those of you who have yet to discover the joys of this video game that was released in 2008, then let me fill you in. The story focuses on Darth Vader’s secret apprentice named Starkiller–a nod to the original name of the protagonist in George Lucas’ Star Wars script– and how he came to be the ward and student of the dark lord. It continues through his struggle as he attempts to fulfill his brutal destiny of ruling the galaxy alongside the man who raised and trained him.
Depending on whether you chose the Dark side or the Light, your destiny would change and the game had two possible endings. If you followed the lead of your master then you ended up killing him as good Sith do, but in the process you end up just like him: your remains grafted to a robotic exoskeleton condemned to become Palpatine’s assassin. The ending which–for a while–was considered canon, though, was the one that saw you follow the Light Side; though you gained a sort of redemption, Starkiller died, becoming a martyr for the Rebellion cause.
The Force Unleashed did something that in 2008 was completely radical: it explored the galaxy in the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. For fans, this was an incredibly exciting prospect, getting to know more about the era that made Darth Vader whilst getting to train as a Sith and struggle with your very own battle with the light and the dark. For me, the game was utterly formative. It introduced more massively exaggerated representations of Force powers than we’d never seen–including the iconic moment when Starkiller brings down a Star Destroyer with the Force–a truly conflicted protagonist, and a storyline that teased redemption as well as a heartbreaking destiny that you got to choose.
Though Star Wars has always played with the idea of duality, it was rare to see anyone who wasn’t clearly signposted as good or evil. With Starkiller, a.k.a. Galen Marek, we got to take the Force into our own hands and uncover whether or not we were truly aligned to the dark or the light. The focus on the interior lives of characters during one specific period in time felt poignant, and would inform the future of Star Wars canon.
Galen was brought to life by actor Sam Witwer, who used mo-cap and voice acting to bring a realism to the character that so many games lacked. The Force Unleashed had two endings, one canon and one not, though later they would both be lost to Legends. Witwer, on the other hand, was becoming a mainstay in the Star Wars universe. He would later go on to voice some of the series most legendary characters–including Darth Maul and Emperor Palpatine–in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.
I recently spoke to Witwer about what it was like to play a massive part in building this beloved piece of Star Wars Legends universe. “When I was cast in The Force Unleashed I was like, ‘Okay, this is amazing. They’re using my voice, my likeness, my mo-cap. This is wonderful, but moving on now. Star Wars is my favorite thing on the planet and I’ve done it. Great. Awesome,'” he says. “I had no idea that my association with Star Wars and the wonderful people who make it would continue for many, many years hence. It’s been an extraordinary dream come true.”
The Force Unleashed didn’t just bring new talent to the Star Wars universe–it also brought an exploration of an era we’d rarely seen and powers we couldn’t have dreamed of. The gameplay gave us a hand in our destiny and the space to explore the intricacies of the Force like we’d never done before. It was a formative part of fandom for many of us, and though it now lives in the strange realm of Legends, it opened the door to a wider galaxy that’s shaped the stories we know and love to this day.
What are your memories, if any, of The Force Unleashed? We’d love to hear them in comments.
Images: Lucasfilm, LucasArts