The problem is that LucasArts seems to have long since given up on coherently fitting its games into the world of the films. Whereas once upon a time we were given quality - and relatively sober - efforts like X-Wing and TIE Fighter, the PlayStation 1 era started a trend for weird spin-offs. We had a naff Soul Edge clone, Masters of Teras Kasi, and then later Star Wars: Demolition, a shonky riff on Twisted Metal. By this point The Phantom Menace had reared its ugly head, and with it came the inevitable tie-in games, featuring Jedi using rocket launchers, among other things.
I feel that this last image sums up the wider problem with Star Wars games: the universe is bent and repurposed to fit the needs of gaming, rather than the other way round. I know this is the same issue that invariably crops up when a developer takes on a big TV or film license, but it's particularly evident with Star Wars because it's the same tropes that are exploited time and again.
Take the Force, for example. As a boy I loved the idea that there was massive guiding presence out there, an invisible power that had great impact on everyone and everything, despite being completely intangible. It had mystery.
Lucas tried his best to destroy all this with the prequel trilogy, swapping the original films' subtle uses of the Force for more overt tricks and show-off moves. Various games have followed this shift, with developers using the Force as an excuse for any garish pyrotechnics they can dream up. When Vader choked Admiral Motti in A New Hope, or when the Palpatine started using Force Lightning at the end of Return of the Jedi, these felt like major events. Now we're used to being able to zap endless foes in every Star Wars game - even though it's really supposed to something that only the Sith use. We're so desensitised to its impact that LucasArts has to make it more powerful with each new game, culminating in the Force Unleashed, where Starkiller unleashes huge explosions of electricity that fry dozens of people at a time.
The Force Unleashed and its sequel are typical of the "more is more" approach that LucasArts has taken in recent years. Starkiller's name is a fan-wanking nod to the original Star Wars script, but that's the only light touch about the series. It's bad enough that the first game tries to sell us the idea that Darth Vader kept a secret apprentice that we never knew about, but having killed him off at the end of the first game he's then brought back as a clone for the follow-up. Even this wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that it's a full-priced game that lasts about four hours, one in which something blows up every 10 seconds or so in a vain bid to hide that there's really very little going on. Starkiller exists only to give players an excuse to trash digital scenery while waving a pair of lightsabers about. I'm only surprised that the developers didn't scheme a way for him to use three or four at once, as per Darth Traya in Knights of the Old Republic II.
Later this year will see the release of Kinect: Star Wars, a LucasArts collaboration with Terminal Reality that may prove to be the ultimate example of pared-down Jedi fluff. I'm not normally one to outright condemn a game before its final release, but the version I played at E3 does not bode well. Aside from the teeth-grindingly forced inclusion of voice support (you can activate your weapon by saying "Lightsaber on!" Just like in the films!), there's so much lag between your movements and those on screen that at times there seems to be no connection at all. The code I played had probably been tuned down for demo purposes, but even so it's distressing that I could make solid progress by aimlessly wafting my arms, chopping down wave after wave of Battle Droids without even concentrating. Still, it's got lightsabers and John Williams' music in it, and that's all we really want, right?
Naturally there's that other Star Wars game to consider. EA and BioWare's The Old Republic is a far more complex-looking affair, with what is rumoured to be one the biggest production budgets in the history of gaming. It's the first MMO to feature full voice support, and it'll supposedly offer over 200 hours of play for each of its eight classes. Also, it'll feature lightsabers and John Williams' music.
It may be a fresh and exciting new take on the Star Wars universe, or it may be a derivative World of Warcraft clone with Jedi and Sith in place of Elves and Orcs; either way, I won't be signing up. Still, I don't think the final game will be lacking in players: it's already broken EA's record for pre-orders.