For almost 40 years now the Star Wars franchise has reigned supreme. Who would’ve thought back in 1977 that a sci-fi film from a young up and coming George Lucas would have such a profound impact on the film industry and pop culture? Star Wars is just as iconic as McDonalds and Coca-Cola for better and for worse (George Lucas likes his money you see). From the original trilogy spawned the Star Wars expanded universe, which includes comics, books, TV series and video games. The expanded universe has expanded the Star Wars universe so much in fact that it’s practically impossible to keep up with it and devote time to all the media that is now a part of it. If you’re looking for a Star Wars video game to play, one you can’t and shouldn’t pass up is Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, especially if you’ve ever dreamed about creating a Jedi and playing as him or her.
Before getting into Jedi Academy, it’s necessary to first cover the series it’s part of, the Jedi Knight series. Star Wars: Dark Forces, the first entry in the series was released on the PC, Mac, and PS1 way back in 1995, a much less complicated time. I really thought I could make a career out of being a Jedi at that time (mind you, I was only 5 years old then). Anyway, Dark Forces is a first person shooter set in the Star Wars universe. You play as the character of Kyle Katarn, a Rebel Alliance mercenary and a skilled Jedi. A sequel, Star Wars: Dark Forces II was released on the PC two years later in 1997, which again features Kyle Katarn. An expansion, Mysteries of the Sith followed in 1998 and it features Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker’s wife in the expanded universe. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast followed in 2002 and once again features Kyle Katarn as the main character. For me, Jedi Outcast was really what made the Jedi Knight series fun and compelling. It’s the first Star Wars game I really got into thanks to the smooth weapon combat (especially with those lightsabers), the ability to switch between third and first person perspective, the engaging and intriguing storyline and Desann as the villain (he’s quite the evil bitch). While other kids were playing Halo back around that time, I was the nerd playing Jedi Outcast. I never thought they could make a better Star Wars game, and then Jedi Academy came out in 2003, and then I became the nerd who played that instead of Halo 2.
What’s so great about Jedi Academy? Well, for one thing it expands upon the smooth gameplay combat that made Jedi Outcast so great. You’re once again given the ability to switch between first and third perspective. Personally, I always prefer the first person perspective because it gets me more immersed in the game, but I can’t deny that the third person perspective is preferable when engaging in lightsaber combat. Out of all of the Star Wars video games I’ve played, Jedi Academy has easily had the best controls and gameplay combat.
What else is great about Jedi Academy? Well, you get to create your own Jedi and craft your own custom lightsaber, no big deal. Each lightsaber style has a set of unique moves and styles and once you master them, you’ll piss off other players in multiplayer mode quite often. Did I also mention you get to learn all those cool force powers too? Yeah, depending on which powers you put more points into, you might find the dark side to be more appealing, and no judgment because it’s only a game after all!
Although it’s not a big downside, you do have to play through a set storyline as your custom Jedi character (who’s named Jaden). Jaden is a student new to the Jedi Academy who has to face the Dark Jedi cult. You also have to deal with an annoying side character, Ross (Jason Marsden), unfortunately. He becomes more integral to the storyline later, and he might wear or grow on you depending. Kyle Katarn (Jeff Bennett) also returns once again and fan favorite Luke Skywalker (Bob Bergen) also makes an appearance in the game, which is all the better. You also get to visit and explore classic Star Wars locations such as Hoth and Tatooine, which is fan service at its finest. Depending on the choices you make later in the game, Jaden will remain loyal to the Jedi or become ultimately seduced by the dark side.
Lastly, what really makes Jedi Academy superb besides the whole custom Jedi and lightsaber features is the multiplayer mode. This is definitely where Raven Software put in the most of their development effort, and it’s what gives the game replay value. You can easily loose track of time and spend a whole night (or summer vacation) playing Jedi Academy multiplayer mode. It’s where one really learns the way of the force and then proceeds to dominate (or just troll) all the others with it. Also, out of all of the multiplayer modes, capture the flag is easily the best, in my humble opinion. Unfortunately, it’s tough to come by anyone who plays Jedi Academy multiplayer anymore, but you can always create a local server and play with your real life friends and your online friends, just a thought.
Even though it’s been 13 years since its initial release, Jedi Academy remains one of the best Star Wars games ever made. It’s basically a Star Wars fan’s dream come true. You get to create your own Jedi (either male or female), create your own custom lightsaber, play through a story mode, and then decide if you want to stay loyal to the Jedi or stick it to them. Then there’s the multiplayer mode, which will consume your life much faster than Jabba the Hutt can consume, well, anything. It’s really a fun and inclusive game that gets everything about Star Wars right and one that future generations of Star Wars fans absolutely need to be introduced to. It’s also a game that I’ll always love and cherish not because I’m just a Star Wars fan, but because it was my escape during my awkward and daunting teenage years. So instead of buying the massively overhyped and underwhelming Star Wars Battlefront this Christmas, do yourself a favor and just buy the Jedi Knight collection off of Steam, which includes Jedi Academy. The only side effect is that you’ll become stronger with the force.