I’m going to make the case for something related to video games, and it might be a somewhat flimsy case, because a fair chunk of it is based on conjecture and personal experience, and the experience of talking to other fans, and watching how the video game industry has developed over time. But I think there’s a pretty strong case to be made, and I’d love to hear your thoughts at Facebook.com/sw7x7.
So here’s the proposal: That Star Wars video gaming did as much, if not more, to keep the franchise alive between the Original and Prequel Trilogies.
Let’s start with this: The Expanded Universe didn’t officially come into existence until 1991, eight years after Return of the Jedi. The nearest thing to an Expanded Universe that existed after 1983 and prior to 1991 was the original run of the Marvel Star Wars comic book series, which only went on for about two years after Jedi. And of course, who could forget the Droids and Ewoks cartoons in 1985 and 1986. I mean, come on! As for any other regular Star-Wars-ish fix, there was Bantha Tracks, the newsletter from the official Star Wars Fan Club, and that stopped in 1987.
So was a Star Wars fan to do in those dark times? Re-read Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka? Explore the nascent Internet for fan fiction? Make Super-8 movies with the last of the Power of the Force action figures?
Nope! The answer was, play video games.
Meanwhile, from 1983 to 1991, 11 different Star Wars related video games were released for various home systems, based on the movies, the Droids cartoon series, and thematic elements, like Jedi Arena.
And even if you’re not a “gamer,” per se, you’ll recognize at least one of them, which was the home version of the Star Wars game you saw in the arcades in the 80s. The one with those pre-Tron-style line drawing graphics, vector graphics in the parlance. For those of you who don’t remember or just never found yourself in an arcade in the 80s – I think the former is waaay more likely – it was an X-wing simulator.
Over and over again, you would play as Luke, attempting to destroy the Death Star in progressively more difficult simulations. You’d fight TIE fighters in space first, then have to maneuver through the towers and guns on the surface of the Death Star, and finally, get into the trench itself. All without getting fried by white fireballs that looked like the heads of 4th of July sparklers, slamming into towers, or crashing into blocks in the trenches. Remember that?
The arcade game was so popular that the International Arcade Museum’s “Killer List of Video Games” division named it the 4th best coin-operated video game of all time, behind only Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong. Kind of hard to argue those three, I guess, though it’s interesting that only Donkey Kong continues to live on as a character. Maybe it’s time to re-jigger that list.
That was in the arcade, though, and that was only one of the 11 games available at home from 1983 to 1991. So Star Wars fans were still able to get their fix during those long, cold years.
Then the Expanded Universe came along, and guess what happened? Yup! Even though video game makers had been pumping out the Star Wars video games for all those years, you think they would have realized the gold mine they were sitting on. Nope! Seems it took the explosion of the Expanded Universe to wake them up to it. From 1992 to 1998 – a span two years shorter than the ‘83-’91 time frame – they released 25 Star Wars video games for home platforms. 25!
That’s when video games were expanding onto PCs and whatnot, but hey, without Star Wars video games lighting up TV screens in the mid to late 1980s, there’s a good chance that this podcast, and many others – to say nothing of the franchise itself – simply would not exist.
Star Wars Fun FactSurprising or little known Star Wars tidbits, sometimes related to today’s Force Feature.
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— Michael J. Martinez (@mikemartinez72) October 28, 2014
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Trivia Time!Test your knowledge of the Star Wars universe!
Yesterday’s answer: Yoda’s
Today’s question: What world’s surrounding system contained an area of space the Rebels called Sector 47?