Are the Best Star Wars Stories Now in Games Like ‘Star Wars: Squadrons’?

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A game critic for the Los Angeles Times remembers his reaction to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. “What a disappointment — if only it had been built for video game consoles.” This leads to this epiphany:
For all the deserved attention “The Mandalorian” series on Disney+ has received, the just-released game “Star Wars: Squadrons” reminds us that some of the best “Star Wars” stories in recent years have been in the video game space…. This is a work, in fact, that doesn’t suffer from an action-focused, little-narrative approach — every second I’ve spent with this game has fulfilled the sort of personal “Star Wars” fantasy that’s enhanced by giving the audience a bit of autonomy. It’s also, for those privileged enough to own a virtual reality headset, the VR experience I’ve had at home that most represents what it’s like to be in a theme park.

Rather than throwing spectacle after spectacle at me, it lets me partake in them, to scratch the itch of being in the center of intergalactic, aerial dogfights. But less than emphasizing awe, “Squadrons” centers on the feel of controlling a ship, making me feel a part of something bigger. Sure, that’s just digital, fictional warfare, but “Squadrons” understands the appeal of “Star Wars” is that it’s open to everyone, and any of us can be ace pilots if given the chance. We don’t admire; we act.

There is nostalgia at play. The game recalls some of the LucasArts spaceflight simulators of yore that I obsessed with in my suburban Chicago basement, but there’s a sense of swiftness and polish that makes this game as appealing as a coin-op arcade machine. And yet it’s also in possession of confidence, a depth that I’ll need to master if I really want to go hard in multiplayer battles. As a solo player without many friends who play multiplayer games — OK, fine, none — I’m not so sure I’ll take the time to learn each individual ship and its advantages or disadvantages. But I’m not sure I need that because “Squadrons” has me smiling throughout, even if I accidentally turn my X-wing into an asteroid. While throwing me into larger-than-life moments — disable a giant, Imperial starship and help lead a capture of it — “Squadrons” succeeds in making them feel livable and conquerable.

In other words, by focusing so intently on the act of spaceflight, I don’t feel like a tourist in the “Star Wars” universe, thrown a litany of “greatest hits” moments. Instead, “Squadron’s” single-focus obsession allows my imagination to run free rather than have to wonder where I am, who I am or what I’m supposed to do now. I can just fly. And shoot. And it feels great.

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