"StarWars Fanart" by Nicolas Siner (ArtStation)
Star Wars is a timeless franchise - one that doesn't need an introduction in most places across the world. The iconic elements seen from the varying lightsabers to Darth Vader's helmet stretching all the way to the soundtrack, all of which is recognizable in some way to billions of people.
With that said, I really have to wonder why such a beloved and profitable franchise has been in the hands of Electronic Arts (EA) for this long. I have to perform even more mental gymnastics in my head to understand why Disney says they are happy with their relationship with EA. Granted, it does make some semblance of sense; sales figures from both Battlefront entries show that these games are commercially successful. So why make an issue out of it? Simply put, because Star Wars could be (and already has been) a lot more than what it is now.
Before the exclusivity license with EA, a lot of Star Wars content was either created or licensed out by LucasArts, the video game development subsidiary of Lucasfilm. With Lucasfilm's acquisition by Disney in 2012, however, the future of Star Wars video games became uncertain. It only took four months after the acquisition was finalized for LucasArts to become a skeleton crew and cease all video game development operations.
Once everything returned to business as usual, Disney had to figure out how to reinvigorate Star Wars as a video game franchise. As it happens, EA had experience publishing and developing Star Wars titles in the past, most notably Star Wars: The Old Republic which, for its time, set several records and made waves in PC gaming. That's why the decision to exclusively allow EA to publish and develop Star Wars games shouldn't be too surprising, but there is a problem: EA has a tendency to gravely miss the mark with games they have a hand in.
As I mentioned to kick this rant off, Star Wars is legendary. It's so recognizable and wildly successful that any half-decent attempt at making an entry in the franchise will more than likely be successful (see: Battlefront II). It also contains such a rich and diverse universe that any developer or writer would be able to create a viable setting for a Star Wars game in relatively little time compared to other game series. So with a stacked deck and a fixed hand, how does EA still manage to lose?
The answer is simpler than one might think: Disney doesn't have a clue when it comes to video games and EA is overly concerned with financial expansion to focus on what Star Wars fans and gamers want. Consider this: why are there so many Star Wars pipe dream games? Why does anyone know and still talk about Star Wars 1313, an action-adventure hopeful that would pit players as a young Boba Fett, even though it was nothing more than an idea? These are questions that come up because fans know all about the creative potential of the Star Wars universe, even when the ideas might be risky.
"Darth Revan" by Raph Lomotan (ArtStation)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the perfect example of what can happen when risks are taken by fans of the franchise. It was a brilliantly-crafted tale of stark morals, serving as a prequel to the timeline that the current Star Wars movies take place in. The series follows Revan, a former Jedi knight turned Sith lord who ultimately expresses many flaws in the duality of the Star Wars universe. The story was risky because it involved a complex story and a conceptual spin off of the traditional light and dark sides of the Force that ended up making both sides implicit in every conflict. Yet despite this, the series was one of the most successful games to be released on their respective consoles, and the character Revan even returned later in Star Wars: The Old Republic to be the main antagonist of an entire expansion.
These principles were also explored in the animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), which many might remember airing on Cartoon Network for its deep delving into the ideas and principles governing Star Wars. It asks the characters and the audience what it means to be a Jedi, what it means to be a Sith, and it has each character come to a different but equally crucial answer. Most importantly, it helped to point out its own flaws instead of building up the Jedi order to be this universally good and benevolent force, with the Sith being the exact opposite. It gave every facet of the Star Wars universe significantly more depth and as such, made it that much easier for fans to get immersed and captivated by it.
It might sound tedious and pointless, but this is what inspired many of the great entries into the Star Wars franchise. It's a story of galactic proportions that became such good stories by exploring these morals and codes that people live by. But, many of these games became great because they showed how these ideas can be right or wrong and expressed what it all meant. That's why when we remember some of the greats, like Knights of the Old Republic, we think of the decisions that were made and what happened as a result. We consider how Revan's path, which seems ludicrous on the surface, might actually be the path we would end up taking if we were in his boots.
"Star Wars: Battlefront II Cover Art" by Wojtek Fus (ArtStation)
When people say that EA's take on Star Wars is missing something, this is a part of it. While we enjoy the high-action moments of war in Battlefront, we're missing the fundamental and moral background of Star Wars that makes any of it interesting in the first place. Sure, lightsabers and blasters are neat, but people will, at some point, stop and wonder what the point is. If the endgame of EA's renditions of Star Wars is to have players pay money until they've collected everything, it shouldn't shock them when sales figures are considerably lower than they expect them to be.
The list of cancelled Star Wars projects clearly demonstrates what EA values, if their constant blunders during the development and release of Battlefront II, followed by a slew of cancellations and closures doesn't. What seems to be favored here is quick, easy, and safe ideas that never push the boundaries in a franchise that has traditionally thrown boundaries out the airlock.
Battlefront II (and even Star Wars: The Last Jedi) barely came close to meeting the same success their immediate predecessor did. I think the sentiments I've shared here, as well as many of the others that critics and fans alike have shared across the internet, do much to reflect why that could be. Assuming EA's continues to carry on the Star Wars to contested and mixed reception, Disney should seriously consider looking into other options before the Star Wars name is permanently tarnished by cancelled projects and loot boxes.
And if that should become the new norm of Star Wars, this generation of Star Wars films and video games may even go down to be the worst.