Time has not been kind to The Force Unleashed in both gaming and Star Wars fandom. I’ve always had a soft spot for the multimedia project in my heart, and after revisiting it recently, I’ve found even more to love. Here are some reasons TFU deserves to be reevaluated.
It was a “big” Star Wars story during the new dark ages
The game dropped in September 2008: post-Prequels and a time when the future of Star Wars was a bit uncertain. This was a good 4 years before Disney bought Lucasfilm, and 7 years before The Force Awakens. The Clone Wars film had just released the month prior, and wasn’t quite the theatrical Star Wars experience many fans (including myself) had hoped for. For better or worse, The Force Unleashed came at the time when video game technology had just about gotten to the point where developers could pull off pretty convincing approximations of cinematic experiences. TFU was exactly that, and connected with me in a way that other Star Wars media of the time didn’t.
It was a Star Wars game for the people
While most modern Star Wars games require a pricey gaming PC, VR headset, or console, TFU was released in some capacity on 11(!) platforms, including mobile. The primary, and most technologically advanced version of the game appeared on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, but the game also appeared on more affordable and ubiquitous systems like PS2, Wii, and DS.
It has the quintessential Star Wars voice cast
The Force Unleashed features voices from Star Wars mainstays like Catherine Taber, Steve Blum, Dee Bradley Baker, David W. Collins, and Tom Kane. Jimmy Smits even returns to voice Bail Organa! The highlight of the voice cast however, is Sam Witwer as Galen Marek. Marek, codenamed Starkiller, is not exactly a beloved Star Wars protagonist. In the gaming space, Starkiller was a poster boy for the “angry bald white guy” style of anti-hero appearing in countless games of the era. In Star Wars fandom, he was derided as an edgelord jerk who wasn’t what Saga fans wanted out of a protagonist. But in revisiting the game, I was struck by the little bits of nuance Witwer brings to the character through tone and delivery of lines. The unpredictable intensity of Witwer’s portrayal of Maul has its roots here.
It’s also a story about Vader’s ambitions
We know The Emperor withheld plenty of information, but Vader kept some secrets of his own, like his apprentice here. Years later in the new canon, we’d see Vader running secret missions with another co-conspirator: the rogue archeologist, Doctor Aphra.
That’s not how The Force works!
The original pitch for the game, as documented on an old Star Wars dot com post, is pretty great:
To really solidify the vision of the Force Unleashed, Project Lead Haden Blackman and Art Director Matt Omernick met with FX artist Eric Antanavich and animator Patrick Przybyla to plan what was to become our pre-visualization for the game. The “pre-viz” was a one-minute video comprised of many “playblasts” or action sequences that were “stitched” together to illustrate the ways in which the Force could be unleashed in game: violently slamming stormtroopers into walls, shocking a group of troopers senseless, even tossing an enemy into an oncoming TIE fighter.
The pre-viz turned out to be a huge success — so much so that after LucasArts executives saw it they felt comfortable presenting it to George Lucas himself! And just as with the execs, George was very impressed by what he saw, creating one of the first defining moments for the project when he stated it looked great — “Go make that game.”
The portrayal of Force powers in this game are far more wild than anything we’d ever seen in Star Wars. The most apt comparison that comes to mind for me is Dragon Ball Z. The Force Push for example, is an extremely visceral psionic blast straight out of a shounen anime. If you’re playing on PC, Mac, PS3, or 360, there’s also a completely bonkers physics engine which leads occasional unintentional hilarity when a Stormtrooper is sent flying, ricocheting into the abyss. Unsurprisingly, some Star Wars fans were not into all of this, so here’s the good news:
It’s not canon!
At the time of release, The Force Unleashed’s portrayal of The Force and some of the more ridiculous story beats (no spoilers, but there are some real zingers) were a bridge too far for some fans, which led them to dismissing TFU outright. Now that the EU falls under the Legends banner, you can just enjoy the absurdity without concerns about canon repercussions. So go pop open a can of Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel and Unleash The Force!