The Star Wars franchise has one of the longest and most prolific histories of any video game franchise to date. While the original games were based directly off of the original trilogy, later Star Wars games have expanded into the extended universe or have forged story lines entirely independent of any other Star Wars fiction.
Originally starting off with a series of games on the Atari 2600, Star Wars has since seen over a hundred twenty games released under its name. Featuring games on nearly every platform and in nearly every genre it is safe to say that the Star Wars Franchise is unparalleled in gaming.
The first game released under the Star Wars name was The Empire Strikes Back in 1982 for the Atari 2600. Taking place entirely during the Battle of Hoth the player controlled a snowspeeder through various obstacles and enemies. It wasn't until 1983 that the first definitive Star Wars game would be released in the form of the arcade-only game, Star Wars.
The first real space simulator, Star Wars put the player into the cockpit of Luke Skywalker's X-Wing. Taking place mostly during the final scenes of the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, the highly-successful arcade game was later ported to many other systems including the Commodore 64, Apple II, and the Atari ST.
After the video game crash of 1983 Lucasfilm temporarily withdrew from further video game involvement until the release of Star Wars for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, and Sega Master System in the later half of 1990.
In 1992 Super Star Wars was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This successful platformer took place mostly on foot with sections taking place in the cockpit of a snowspeeder and an X-Wing. The success of this title spawned two sequels, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, in 1993 and 1994 respectively.
In 1993 the first installment of the critically acclaimed X-Wing franchise was released under the title of Star Wars: X-Wing. This critically and financially successful game put the player in the cockpit of an X-Wing during dogfights with Tie Fighters and, later, as an escort for capital ships.
Soon after in 1993 Rebel Assault was released for PC, considered the most technically advanced game of its' time, Rebel Assault once again put the player in the role of a X-Wing pilot. Using pre-rendered environments and digitalized video with full voice, Rebel Assault was considered the most immersive Star Wars game to date.
In 1995 Star Wars took it's biggest step yet with the release of Star Wars: Dark Forces. The first FPS of the Star Wars Franchise, Dark Forces was critically hailed for it's story, gameplay, and complex level design. Perceived as a Doom clone, but actually excelled past that of Doom, and was considered an excellent game, and not just a bad Doom clone. Perhaps the first game to create it's own Star Wars fiction, Dark Forces introduced the anti-hero Kyle Katarn. Critically acclaimed and a financial success, Dark Forces spawned three sequels across numerous platforms.
The Star Wars Franchise soon entered the current generation of consoles with the release of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire for the Nintendo 64. In an attempt to bridge the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, SotE puts the player in control of Dash Rendar in his attempts to aide Luke Skywalker and save Princess Leia who has once again been kidnapped.
The Star Wars franchise received its' first real-time strategy game in the form of Star Wars: Rebellion. Despite its' inclusion of ship and artillery not found in the original canon the game failed to reach an audience. Many people criticized the game for it's poor graphics and awkward gameplay while other's praised it for it's emphasis of gameplay over graphics. The game received a spiritual sequel, Star Wars: Force Commander, in 2000 that also failed to reach an audience.
Star Wars returned to the PC platform with the release of Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II and X-Wing VS. TIE-Fighter. While Dark Forces II received wide praise for it's engrossing gameplay and impressive 3D environments, X-Wing VS. TIE-Fighter was met with lukewarm reception from most of the series fans due to it's lack of storyline and cutscenes. With the release of the first movie in the prequel trilogy, A Phantom Menace, in 1999 the gaming world was flooded with numerous Star Wars movie tie-in games. Most received little critical success but had shared solid sales.
In 1999, Star Wars: Episode I - Racer was released, allowing players to take part in pod racing introduced in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In March of 2004, it was considered the fifth best Star Wars game of all time.
The franchises third attempt at the RTS genre was Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, released in 2001. Based entirely off of the Age of Kings engine, the game played nearly identically to Age of Empires II. Featuring six different factions with unique weapons and buildings to each, Galactic Battlegrounds is considered one of the best Star Wars entries into the RTS genre. In 2002 an expansion, Clone Campaigns, was released that included two new campaign modes and two new factions.
In 2002 the second movie of the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones, was released in cinemas along with a series of tie-in video games. The most notable, The Clone Wars, featured mostly vehicular combat but also included sections of third person shooting. The game was released to lukewarm reviews but did well in sales. Numerous other games such as Star Wars: Racer Revenge and Bounty Hunter were released to mediocre reviews.
Jedi Outcast , the third installment in the Dark Forces series, was released in late 2002 to generally positive reviews. Once again starring Kyle Katarn, Outcast mixed first person shooting with traditional lightsaber combat. The game included numerous multiplayer modes along with a fully functional level editor. The final game in the series, Jedi Academy , was released in 2003. Whilst receiving less positive reviews than its' predecessors the game was still considered a success. Instead of the familiar Kyle Katarn, this time the game put the player in control of Jaden Korr , a new student at the Jedi Academy. Equally unlike its predecessors, the game featured many locations found in the original Star Wars films such as Hoth and Tatooine. A fully functional online mode was also included.
LucasArts joined with BioWare to make the critically lauded RPG, Knights of the Old Republic. Set four thousand years before the prequel trilogy the game put the player in the role of a fully customizable player. The game was financially successful and formed a large cult following in the years after its' release. The sequel, The Sith Lords, was developed by Obsidian Entertainment and released in 2004. While less critically successful than the first installment the game is still as a high point for the franchise as a whole.
Star Wars: Battlefront, released in 2004, put the player in the role of foot soldier in one of four factions. Featuring scenarios in major battles from both the prequel and original trilogies, the game was a huge success. The game included four playable classes along with several hero classes that allowed the player to use Jedi. The game's wide success helped spawn a sequel that was released in 2005. Featuring updated graphics, new classes, and new weapons, Star Wars Battlefront II was hugely successful.
Lego Star Wars, a joint effort between Traveller's Tales and LucasArts, was released in 2005 to warm reviews and strong sales. Putting the player into a LEGO version of the prequel trilogy, the game combined platforming and puzzles. This successful partnership continued with the release of Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. Nearly identical to the first game in terms of gameplay this title put the player in familiar scenarios from the original trilogy. In 2007 the final game in the set, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, was released. Essential a combination of the previous two games this installments featured updated graphics and improved level design. A new game, Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars based upon the clone wars aspect of the franchise is due to be released in March 2011
Star Wars: Empire at War was the latest foray into the RTS genre for the Star Wars franchise. Released in 2005 it featured five different game modes and a campaign that followed the story of the original three films. Released to good reviews, the game received an expansion in 2006 titled, Forces of Corruption.
In 2008, The Force Unleashed was released by LucasArts Entertainment Company LCC. It was applauded for its well-crafted story but criticized for unbalanced gameplay. The game is about a young Sith named Starkiller, who was found and trained by Darth Vader. The game bridges the gap between Episode III and Episode IV. A sequel, The Force Unleashed II, was also made.
The series' first foray into the popular MMO space was with Star Wars:Galaxies in 2003. Currently there is one Star Wars MMO and one upcoming this fall. Star Wars: The Old Republic, based in the era of the Knights of the Old Republic and Clone Wars Adventures based of the hit T.V. Show