Haden Blackman, the project leader on “The Force Unleashed” video game, has a daydream: He strolls into the movie theater, buys some popcorn and then sits down and watches his game’s tale of Darth Vader and his secret apprentice flicker to life as cinema.
“Oh, that would be incredible,” said Blackman. “And it’s not impossible. Never say never. George [Lucas] has looked to tell new ‘Star Wars’ stories through the games and with the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe, and then he has also shown a willingness to let the characters come into the films. Look at Aayla Secura, a creation in the [Dark Horse] comic books who became part of the theatrical films.”
More than that, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” released in August, began as a television animated series (and still will be, with tie-in episodes premiering Oct. 3 on Cartoon Network), but when Lucas saw the work in progress he decided to take the tale to the cineplex. That film has gotten mixed reviews, to say the least, but Lucas doesn’t seem to care a bit about the opinion of any detractors when it comes to his historic entertainment enterprise and its directions.
Dark Horse has also released a graphic novel version of “The Force Unleashed” and, to my mind, it’s more satisfying than the game — although in full disclosure, that’s not saying much, because I am far more of a reader than a gamer. Blackman not only penned the story for the graphic novel, he also has a lavish 224-page book titled “The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” that celebrates the images and behind-the-scenes labor on the game as if it already were a major motion picture. An adapatation of the film in a traditional prose novel written by Australian sci-fi author Sean Williams also hit No. 1 on the New York Times list of hardcover fiction bestsellers and now, after four weeks, is at No. 14 on that tally.
Lucas is clearly pleased with this new entry to the broader “Star Wars” story and I would not be surprised for a moment to see it on a theater marquee at a CG-animated project in the next few years, especially with the intensifying Hollywood interest in video games and toys as film properties. There’s also the very real power of putting Darth Vader on a movie poster in the theater lobbies of America.
If the “The Force Unleashed” does become a movie, Blackman said it would be a testament to the priorities and sophisticated ideas of his team, who he says puts storytelling and game-play on equal footing and emphasized “the artistic nature” of the quickly changing video-game medium. “It’s an incredible time,” he said, “to be telling powerful stories in this fairly young medium.”
Perhaps, but like the most recent film addition to the Lucas universe, there was huge pre-release anticipation for “The Force Unleashed,” followed by widespread grumbling. It hit stores Sept. 16 and topped the 1-million units sales mark in its first five days, according to industry retail reports, but the reviews have been decidedly mixed.
Here’s the take, for instance, by Hero Complex contributor Pete Metzger, who reviewed the game for the Los Angeles Times and echoed many other underwhelmed gamers:
Most of the things that make up the “Star Wars” universe these days — movies, TV shows, toys and video games — are lacking the magic that made the original trilogy of films so incredible. Gone are the spectacle and awe. Instead, we get halfhearted disappointments (such as the current “Clone Wars” animated movie).
Sadly, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is no exception. It should be an amazing story bridge between Episodes 3 and 4 and one that boasts groundbreaking new artificial intelligence and gaming technology. But Unleashed fails to register the tremor in the Force we were hoping for.
You can read Pete’s whole review here.
The Associated Press review was much the same in tone:
You can cut a swath of destruction with your light saber alone, but it’s more fun to use your Force powers. You can send enemies flying with a force push or grab them and throw them at each other. You can zap them with lightning bolts or shock waves. And when you come face-to-face with a larger foe, you have to figure out how to effectively mix your Force abilities.
The story takes place between the third and fourth episodes of “Star Wars,” and it doesn’t have much for the nonfan to chew on.
The game is also marred by some technical problems, such as bland level design, awkward camera angles and inconsistent targeting, which makes it hard to pick up and heave specific objects. And some of the fighting, whether against hordes of Wookies or just a single big boss, gets tedious. Still, it’s entertaining for most of its eight-hour length; it’s just not the revolutionary title that will win over “Star Wars” skeptics.
I’m sure the “Force Unleashed” team is pained after their many seasons of labor to hear any disparaging remarks, but when I spoke to Blackman the other day he could hardly have been more upbeat. He even told me about going to see “The Empire Strikes Back” when he was a kid in Orange County, and he described the way the movie seemed to pluck him out of the audience and whisk him away to the far reaches of the Lucas universe. “I’ll never forget that. It’s just great to be part of it all these years later.” It sounds like Blackman (just like so many other people now working for Lucas at the Presidio) became a secret apprentice back in the summer of 1980.
– Geoff Boucher
Image from “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” courtesy of LucasArts