Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Reader Review
Once upon a time, in a galaxy…
Never mind. You know the drill. Over thirty years ago, a young, plucky go-getter by the name of George Lucas decided that marrying the tried and tested storytelling formula of freedom fighting rebels versus ruthless, dictatorial behemoth with s science-fiction setting would be worth looking into. In the decades that have passed since then, Mr. Lucas has ventured with unparalleled intent down a road of maturity and personal fulfilment, searching far and wide for minute fragments of creative inspiration through which to hone his craft for the benefit of the generations to come. Well, either that or he’s been idly bathing in piles of cash whilst socially repressed adolescents lurk outside his diamond-encrusted mansion in the hope that he’ll consider signing their bottles of limited edition Admiral Ackbar athlete’s foot lotion.
To cut a long, sometimes tedious, yet strangely heart-warming story short, the Star Wars license is usually a foolproof guarantee of instant financial success, much in the same way that lining one’s y-fronts with pigeon feed in Trafalgar Square is usually a foolproof guarantee of instant castration. Just slap on the universally recognisable logo, add in a John Williams soundtrack and the low, unmistakeable humming of a lightsaber and book your ticket on the next flight to Nouveau Riche Island.
That’s the theory, anyway, albeit one that Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy may well testify against. In analysing the clinical, soulless milking of money-spinning franchises, we often tend to forget that a winning formula quickly becomes a copied formula, resulting in a myriad of faceless, factory processed clones incessantly wandering onto the scene in ever-decreasing blazes of rapturous glory. Standing out in an ocean of tawdry products bearing an established name tag thus becomes an increasingly difficult proposition, one that often resolves itself under the classic “who shouts loudest” rules. Whether it’s the Knights of the Old Republic method of merging story-driven character development with blasters and spaceships, The Force Unleashed’s capacity for unrelenting destruction or the Lego Star Wars approach of retelling the saga through silly facial expressions and child-friendly madcappery, making your Star Wars experience stand out from all the others is more important than ever in the drive to avoid becoming another Star Wars: Obi-Wan or Bounty Hunter.
Jedi Academy tries valiantly to keep its head above such murky Dagobah waters, but ultimately comes up a little short, much like an ewok at a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition. Disappointingly, what seemed like a premise laden with potential ends up spinning its wheels in a vain attempt to advance beyond the realms of mediocrity. What separates Jedi Academy from most other Star Wars cash-ins is, it would appear, its constant, inescapable reminders of what might have been.
Going to Jedi school ought to be a thrill, especially for the oft-understimated numbers of shunned Chinese burn victims longing to ditch their real-world personas in favour of one fuelled by honour, valour and Force Chokes. Not so, my eager, young Padawan. Jedi Knight’s story, focused around the exploits of Jaden, yet another of a curiously long line of Force prodigies within the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and his attempts to once again avert the menacing Sith threat and bring balance to the Force, is told through an array of clunky, awkwardly choreographed cutscenes and laboured, yet bewilderingly shallow voiceovers, but the problems don’t end there. The protagonist of Jedi Academy’s predecessors, most notably Jedi Outcast, was a wily, conflicted chap by the name of Kyle Katarn, whose deep, engaging back story added to his allure as a trustworthy character backed up by a healthy element of mystique. Jaden, however, possesses all the mystique and subtlety of Nick Griffin at the gates of Mecca, and all the charm to match. Katarn does make an appearance alongside the one and only Luke Skywalker, but the stuttering, stalling layout of the plot, coupled with the laboured nature of Jaden’s interior monologues, quickly relegates them to the status of background noise.
The open chronological structure of the game’s plot doesn’t really help either. Each stage of the game is broken down into mission “trees”, often requiring four out of a selection of five separate missions to be completed before the next set of levels are unlocked. While this grants the player a greater degree of freedom, it comes at the expense of the smooth, cohesive progression of the story, rendering most quests inconsequential distractions from the main crux of the narrative. This would be significantly less of a concern if the missions themselves incorporated a range of consistently innovative, exciting gameplay mechanics, but, in reality, the admittedly impressive environmental variety simply acts as a makeshift scrap of wallpaper on top of a pile of predominantly repetitive, predictable and uninspired shoot-outs and platforming sections, the latter of which are made all the more frustrating by the game’s lack of tight, reliable controls.
On the light side of the Force, the game’s lightsaber battles are exciting affairs, if a little lacking in fluidity. Swashbuckling encounters with various forms of Dark Jedi make for a series of intense, nailbiting showdowns, but facing multiple opponents at once, as becomes all too customary as the game progresses, can often devolve into a scrappy matter of lengthy jumping sequences and quick counter attacks, once again bringing proceedings to a workmanlike slog.
Jedi Academy also sports a perfectly respectable multiplayer mode, although it’s hard to escape the fact that the online community has withered away like Obi-Wan’s bedtime potency in the years since the game’s original release. The option to play with bots is, therefore, a welcome gift from the overseers at Lucasarts, but slicing up AI-controlled foes gets rather old rather quickly if you’re not a socially anxious hermit like me.
Those who missed Jedi Academy back in the day probably don’t have a lot to worry about. Of course, it was a different matter entirely if you were alive during the 1970s. Back then, if you weren’t intimately familiar with the Star Wars trilogy and all its fancy nuances and intricacies, you had missed out on a phenomenon that revolutionised visual entertainment, or at least that’s how history has re-written events in order to fool all the hip, streetwise youngsters like me. Jedi Adademy, conversely, has no such sociocultural boundaries to cross and, as a consequence, must take its place in the endlessly expanding mound of franchise expansions designed to provide a little extra substance for George Lucas’ wallet. And now, what with its dated graphics, antiquated control system and dearth of online interest, it’s likely that anyone who didn’t enrol in the Jedi Academy in 2003 probably never will. Look at it this way, though. With tuition fees on the rise and only a select few jobs out there for saviours of the galaxy, is it really worth all the effort and resources to become a Jedi anyway? My advice? Get a job at The Little Chef instead. OK, so the working conditions and clientele may be a little greasy and you may not get to wield a glowing death stick in your pocket, but at least you won’t have to commit to a life of chastity or risk getting electrocuted by the shrivelled, old fingers of a cloaked politician who turned your father into merciless killer. Just keep things in perspective.