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Saturday Soapbox: Force feeding fandom

Why it's time to stop chasing the myth of the good Star Wars game.

So Star Wars is back. It never really went away, of course, as the dozens of Clone Wars lunchboxes I see during the daily school run will attest. However, with the brand sold to Disney, a new movie trilogy on the way and the game rights now shunted over from the ashes of Lucasarts to Electronic Arts, there comes a sense of a definitive fresh start after the vague and directionless malaise that seeped in post-prequels.

With JJ Abrams at the helm, George Lucas can finally wash his hands of magic space wizards and get on with those smaller, artful personal movies that he really is going to make, no really, any day now, while the fans can ditch the baggage of the past and approach the galaxy far, far away with a clean slate.

It's not going to happen though. Certainly not where video games are concerned. Star Wars gamers are the ultimate masochists, suffering disappointment after disappointment, travesty after travesty, yet still bouncing back with puppy-like optimism every time the logo gets slapped on another half-hearted game.

It's a pattern we've seen dozens of times, most recently in the yearning hope that The Old Republic will fulfil its potential before the servers empty for good. You can see it in the desperate defences of mediocre efforts such as The Force Unleashed, and in the apparently unironic excitement displayed from fanboy quarters for Star Wars 1313. That fans honestly thought a gritty, pandering "Gears of Star Wars" Boba Fett shooter would salvage the reputation of the brand is both baffling and strangely endearing. It's as if Star Wars: Bounty Hunter never happened.

Masters of Teras Kasi. Never forget. Never forgive.

Thing is, it might as well have never happened. We beleaguered Star Wars gamers have evolved short and selective memories, all the better to survive the absolute avalanche of shite that's been tumbling our way for the best part of thirty years. We wistfully reminisce about X-Wing vs TIE Fighter, but conveniently neglect to mention Super Bombad Racing. We wax lyrical about Jedi Knight while ignoring Star Wars: Obi Wan. We find the good in Jedi Starfighter, even as we subconsciously sweep Battle for Naboo under the rug.

Once you venture down the rabbit hole, you begin to remember just how much crap has been churned out under the Star Wars banner. Masters of Teras Kasi, Republic Heroes, Lightsaber Duels and Kinect Star Wars, the runts of an already feeble litter, bring with them the realisation that the vast majority of games to bear the Lucasfilm stamp of approval are average at best, with a disproportionate number quite simply absolutely f**king terrible.

Is that likely to change now that the series has found its way into more corporate ownership? Not likely. We know that DICE and Visceral Games have been tapped to develop Star Wars titles, most likely to coincide with Star Wars Episode VII in 2015. That's certainly a step up from the C-list studios that have been tasked with the job in the past, and will no doubt result in games that are polished at the very least, but it doesn't address the core problem: we really don't need any more Star Wars games.

Pop quiz: which terrible prequel-era game is this from? If you said Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes then you win a glass of blue milk.

There have been over a hundred Star Wars games over the years, of which the good ones barely scrape into double digits and the truly great ones can be counted on the fingers of Luke's bionic hand. Clearly, betting on any new addition to the interactive canon is a fool's game and one of the great contradictions of fandom is the way it allows us to believe that our devotion is best served by product, and lots of it. We're like junkies, forever trying to recreate that first high.

Well, I'm going cold turkey. Where Star Wars is concerned, I've done everything I ever wanted to do in a video game, many times over. I've wielded a lightsaber and used the Force. I've flown X-Wings and manned the turrets on the Falcon. I've steered a speeder bike through Endor, and brought down AT-ATs on Hoth more times than I can count. I've shot enough Stormtroopers to fill a dozen Death Stars. It's enough, I'm done, stick a lightsaber in me.

There may still be cinematic stories to tell where Star Wars is concerned, but as far as gaming goes, the brand feels exhausted, ground into the Tatooine sand by the need to keep serving up the same experiences for an audience that craves the familiar. That's a problem that extends far beyond Star Wars and into the wider pop culture though. We need to learn when to say "enough", rather than gluttonously devouring more and more of the same thing through sheer force of habit. Instead of sobbing over footage of the Battlefront 3 we never got, maybe it's time we questioned exactly what a third Battlefront game would really have offered that hadn't already been done.

Knights of the Old Republic - the exception that proves the rule.

Software is an iterative medium, of course, but that brings with it the perils of repetition for the sake of repetition, particularly when paired with a licensing juggernaut like Star Wars. Just look at all the Spider-Man games still trying to resell the same city swinging from 2000. Look at the James Bond games, a parade of piss poor shooters hoping to rekindle a little of that GoldenEye magic. Too many publishers and too many brands, forever trying to recapture lightning in a bottle rather than generating sparks of their own, and Star Wars is by far the worst offender.

I'll admit I'm cautiously intrigued by what JJ Abrams might bring to Star Wars as a movie franchise, but with new product must come new merchandise and new spin-offs, even if it means making the same games for the hundredth time. That just makes me feel weary. Both Yoda and Obi Wan knew when it was time to let go and become one with the Force. Maybe its time gamers learned to do the same.

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