Long before it even released, the 2019 Star Wars video game Jedi: Fallen Order was being compared to 2008’s Star Wars: The Force Unleashed — and it’s not hard to see why. Both games place players in the shoes of a new lightsaber-wielding protagonist and send them off on an adventure set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. As it turns out, these comparisons weren’t exactly unfounded. While the two games are structured very differently, their stories are actually very similar when you stop to look. In fact, Fallen Order‘s story is not only a great addition to series canon, but also expertly turns that of The Force Unleashed on its head. After all, Star Wars is like poetry: “It rhymes.”
The Force Unleashed follows Galen Marek, aka Starkiller, played by Sam Witwer (who would go on to voice Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels). The son of Jedi Master Kento Marek (who went into hiding on Kashyyyk following Order 66), Starkiller was raised and trained as a Sith by Darth Vader after the dark lord killed his father. Vader kept his new apprentice a secret, hoping that one day he and Starkiller could use their combined powers to kill Emperor Palpatine and take his place as rulers of the Galaxy.
As part of his training, Starkiller was tasked with hunting down and killing the remaining Jedi who managed to survive Order 66. However, even after Starkiller proved his strength by defeating the likes of General Rahm Kota, Kazdan Paratus and Shaak Ti, Vader betrayed and impaled his apprentice in an effort to prove his loyalty to Palpatine, who had gotten wise to what was going on. Still seeing the boy’s worth, Vader revives Starkiller and sends him on a quest to foster what would become the Rebel Alliance in an attempt to destabilize the Empire. The young Sith, himself still loyal to Vader, undertakes this mission alongside pilot Juno Eclipse. The two even recruit the aid of General Kota, who was revealed to have survived his previous encounter with Starkiller. After finally seeing Vader for what he truly is, Starkiller stands up to both his master and the Emperor, becoming a martyr that inspires the Rebels to unite against the Empire in the process.
When it comes to Fallen Order, Cal Kestis’ story (so far) takes a different perspective. Played by Gotham alum Cameron Monaghan, Cal was a young Jedi Padawan training under Jedi Master Jaro Tapal during the Clone Wars. After losing his master during Order 66, Cal managed to escape to Bracca, hiding out on the planet and living the next five years of his life as a scrapper. Around the time the game begins, Cal’s cover is blown, and he finds himself being hunted by the Second Sister, one of the many Inquisitors enlisted by Darth Vader to hunt down and destroy the remaining Jedi.
After escaping Bracca with the help of former Jedi Master Cere Junda (played by Debra Wilson), Cal embarks on a journey to restore the Jedi Order so they might stand against the Empire — all while coming to terms with the trauma of his past and the great guilt he carries with him as a result of not being able to save his master’s life. While his goal is certainly a noble one, by the time all is said and done, Cal must learn from his new master’s past mistakes and face the harsh reality that accomplishing his mission could go horribly wrong. Worse yet, it could lead to him falling to the Dark Side in the very same way those he fights against did. After all, training a new class of Jedi would mean taking a group of children from their homes and essentially painting targets on their backs.
At the end of the day, Starkiller and Cal Kestis really are opposite sides of the same coin. Both lost an important paternal figure at an early age; both were thrown into a quest they never asked for, but were determined to see through to the end all the same; both found new mentors in a troubled ex-Jedi; and both had to take a hard look at themselves in order to decide if what they were doing was actually right. At the same time, the context of these two journeys is very different. Starkiller was the Jedi hunter, Cal the hunted Jedi. Starkiller’s initial mission was malicious, while Cal’s was righteous but misguided. You get the impression that each of the two easily could have been in the other’s position had the chips fallen slightly differently.
Moreover, both The Force Unleashed and Fallen Order are ultimately bittersweet stories of redemption. However, whereas Starkiller sought redemption for the things he did, Cal Kestis sought redemption for what he had failed to do. Starkiller found his second chance in defying the Sith Lord who turned him into his personal assassin, while Cal found his second chance in defying the dogma that not only led to him undertaking a potentially disastrous fool’s quest, but also led to the fall of his fellow Jedi in the first place — vowing to carve a new path alongside his newfound allies and leave the mistakes and shortcomings of the past behind.
On a technical level, Fallen Order is definitely the better game, given the fact that it came out over a whole decade later. It could have used some more polish, sure, but in addition to being visually stunning, the combat is satisfying and responsive, the various locations are highly-explorable, progression feels natural and the lightsaber customization is the stuff of dreams. As far as story goes, however, it really all comes down to which perspective you like better. Based on the journeys they take and the decisions they make, do you ultimately find yourself rooting more for Starkiller or for Cal? Which side of the coin was more engaging? Fittingly, that conclusion is one you must come to yourself.
Still, as impressive as Fallen Order is, The Force Unleashed definitely still has its charm and is more than worth your time. Sure, the game is shorter, more linear and was made for more limited hardware, but it’s still an incredibly enjoyable romp to go back and revisit. The fast-paced hack and slash gameplay alone is more than enough to keep things exciting. And while it’s easy to scoff at just how grossly overpowered Starkiller is from a story perspective, things like using the Force to rip a Star Destroyer out of the sky do make you feel pretty awesome as a player.
If you want a modern cinematic experience that’s not only fun to play but also comes with a story and characters that are most certainly worthy additions to the Star Wars canon, Fallen Order is likely to appeal to you more. If you would like to turn the clock back and embark on a non-canon journey by playing one of the most influential and rip-roaring Star Wars games released this side of the century, The Force Unleashed will probably be more your speed. But if you want the best possible story experience that perfectly highlights the duality of Star Wars and its characters, you really owe it to yourself to play both.
In addition to being a good game in its own right, Jedi: Fallen Order mirrors Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, turning that game's story on its head.