Star Wars Just Can’t Get Away From The Movies

‘Star Wars: Outlaws’ looks awesome. Retreading the same time period in its expansive fiction does not.

We know that protagonist Kay Vess (left) will encounter iconic characters in Star Wars lore, includi...

There’s a strong chance Star Wars: Outlaws will be great. Developer Massive Entertainment has a decent track record working on their own IP and within the hollowed confines of other beloved properties like James Cameron’s Avatar. And as easy as it is to poke holes in Ubisoft’s tried-and-true, checklist approach to open-world game design, it's impossible to consider any of their previous hits truly offensive.

But following the Swedish developer’s reveal trailer that dropped Tuesday, I can’t help but feel we’ve missed another great opportunity to leave the rigid timeline presented in the franchise's core films behind.

Since Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise in 2012, there’s been a reluctance to truly explore the storytelling possibilities of the galaxy far, far away. The sequel movies focused on telling the tale of what happens to Han, Luke, and Leia after the end of the original trilogy. Both spin-off films, Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story, as well as the gaggle of live-action and animated Disney+ shows deal primarily with fleshing out the important factions and characters familiar to anyone who watched the original three movies.

Refusing to explore beyond the 70 galactic years between the first Star Wars film in the timeline and the last, is to the franchise’s detriment some 12 years after creator George Lucas handed it off to the media giant. The company seems to be more interested in filling every narrative hole that exists in the franchise instead of forging ahead with fresh new stories.

Our first look at the story of Star Wars: Outlaws.

The obsession with filling the narrative gaps in the Star Wars universe is nothing new. It has been a staple of the expanded Star Wars universe since the 70’s and 80’s. Before the acquisition, nearly every character that appeared or was mentioned in the films received a side story to explain their motivations and place within the universe. These stories range from entertaining (turns out the broken red R2-unit in Episode 4 malfunctioned on purpose), to truly insightful (the 2012 Darth Pleguies book provides some cool context for Palpatine’s rise for those who care).

When Disney decided to nuke the existing Star Wars lore to avoid having to navigate three decades' worth of (at times, asinine) storytelling, it seemed like an exciting opportunity to make the true potential of this fantasy/science-fiction universe more mainstream than ever.

Instead, we’ve been stuck extrapolating the touchstones of the series, ad nauseam. After a strong start, The Mandalorian threw logical storytelling out of the airlock to shoehorn Grogu, a marketable, baby version of the series' most recognizable character, back into the show. Despite already selling fans on a further exploration of Anakin’s relationship with his master, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series still felt the need to include a young Leia Organa, adding dissonance to their meeting in the original Star Wars movie.

In Ahsoka, the most recent Star Wars offering, the live-action debut of Imperial villain Thrawn should have been a revelation. Instead, the fact that he’s conspicuously missing by the start of 2015’s The Force Awakens implies enough about his fate to render his appearance less interesting.

Star Wars: Outlaws is the first time the Star Wars franchise is going open-world.

Our first look at the story of Star Wars: Outlaws already signals that the game will continue the same issues I have with many of the other Star Wars productions (except the excellent Andor). The trailer is jam-packed with nods, including an appearance by Jabba The Hutt, the planet of Tatooine, and even Han Solo in carbon-freezing.

As unwieldy and wacky as the expanded universe, now dubbed “Legends” by Disney, could be, it also showcases how intriguing the world of Star Wars is beyond what its core films establish. Thrawn originally existed as the sole, formidable force against Luke, Han and Leia following the original trilogy. He was a worthy successor of the sinister Darth Vader, not a minor villain of the week meant to bridge story gaps between an animated show and the films. Greater threats like the alien and otherworldly Yuuzhan Vong allowed writers to put established factions and characters outside of their comfort zones, ditching tired tropes of the series.

Even if you look just at the medium of video games, classics like BioWare’s Knights Of The Old Republic series, which took place 5,000 years before the films, showed how refreshing and memorable a new, refreshing take on the Jedi versus Sith dynamic can be.

Ubisoft confirmed that Outlaws will take place between Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi last year. But knowing for certain that protagonist Kay Vess will be rubbing shoulders with some of the most iconic characters and places in the series makes me worried that we’ll be more focused on making references than etching a significant mark in this rich, science-fiction world.

Players will visit several worlds in Star Wars: Outlaws.

This is not at all a condemnation of the final product. I still have high hopes for Outlaws. The fact that it’ll be a deep dive into the mafioso-type criminal underbelly of the galaxy is a tremendous step in the right direction. I trust Massive Entertainment’s ability to make a game that’s fun to play, and everything we know about Kay Vess so far seems like a fun riff on the pirate archetype that made Han Solo such a legacy character in popular fiction. But knowing just how engrossing Star Wars fiction is when creators free themselves of the very rigid timeline of the films and its many, many spinoffs, makes me pine for the days before the Disney takeover.

Star Wars: Outlaws launches Aug. 30, 2024 on Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC.

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