By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
Graverobbing in the shadow of the monuments
here's something a little uneasy about any videogame based on a film, as if the game itself was conscious of its status as eternal footnote, cursed with a golemic half-life and enslaved by filing cabinet-grey chains of copyright. The end result is often an unseemly tug of war between what pre-existed the game in the universe created by the film and how that original material is approached by the game's designers and expanded upon for the benefit (or detriment) of the players. Even when the transference process is a success, a strange feeling lingers in the air, a vague aura of broken monuments. When the integration of the material is a failure, however, the movement from screen-to-game reveals itself to be an exercise in graverobbing. Such is the case in the LucasArts disaster Jedi Knight. Jedi Knight, both developed and released by LucasArts in late 1997, is a tragic example of what not to do when toying with sacred ground. Now of course the obvious retort comes to the foreground: "but this game was designed by LucasArts...surely they can be trusted to preserve the integrity of the Star Wars vision." Apparently not. The overall silliness of Jedi Knight is that much more disturbing because it was released through the official arm of George Lucas's merchandising machine.
One wonders at how far the mighty have fallen.
Jedi Knight begins with the traditional scrolling text accompanied by William's famous tune. We learn that the game's narrative is set sometime after Return of the Jedi and that a group of trouble makers called the Dark Jedi are running around wreaking havoc led by some "menacing" figure named Jerec. The game opens with a sort of invocation to the muses, namely the requisite demonstration of just how merciless the villain we are to face might prove to be. Jerec, embarrasingly overacted by some dinner theatre hack doing his best Michael Ironside impression, leers at his prisoners while scampering about the ship attempting to convey dreadful power. His captive audience is a Jedi who apparently holds important information. Our erstwhile hero escapes and strikes at his tormentors only to be beheaded. This opening, while a tad bit silly, looks like a masterpiece compared to the second sequence.
We are introduced to a bearded fellow sitting in some very film-noirish shadows. This disreputable looking stranger watches a hologramatic recording which we learn is a younger version of himself, sans "troubled-looking, I've-seen-those-dark-streets" beard, being praised by his wise old father. As the rest of the narrative unfolds we learn that the man's father is now dead and revenge is in the air. The actor who portrays this jaded warrior seems caught in a perpetual re-run of Miami Vice, his school boy voice desperately trying to portray "darkness of the soul" as he spits out such lines as "dark side...I've been there...do your worst." One can almost hear the clinking of the shovels as the body snatchers scurry among the tombstones.
The entire piece feels like a B-movie, a production in which the creators broke into Lucas's studios and ransacked the place, stealing costumes and models. The direction is very basic, riddled with painful cliches such asthe little black eyeglass wearing villain, the supposedly taut, noirish dialogue and, in particular, the "dramatic" lighting. The opening sequences are seeped in black, apparently to give the setting an added menace but which only serves to render everything impossible to see. In the most awkward scene in the piece the bearded hero is introduced as the prototypical "mysterious stranger." He sits back in the darkness, face slashed by shadows. It is a standard technique taken directly from the crime films of the forties and fifties, but it fails for two primary reasons.
On the one hand you cannot escape the fact that this is Star Wars and because of the assumptions and expectations already built into the films by Lucas the addition of hard bitten realism and the gritty darkness of tortured emotions just seems out of place. On the other hand even these emotions could find a place in Star Wars if a strong creative force was carefully guiding every step; this is not the case in Jedi Knight. The whole exercise collapses under the weight of its own pretension and lack of substance.
Jedi Knight perhaps finds its closest symbolic representation in the image of weeds grown 'round a battered monument, an exercise in graverobbing in which an honored relic is tarnished and broken up by cut-rate resurrection men. It is all the more tragic that the dissection is carried out by the very people who one would hope would seek to preserve their hallowed ground.
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1998 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.