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Star Wars Video Games Through the Ages

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Gaming

There are probably enough "Star Wars" video games to fill a space cruiser. And let's face it: Many of them probably should have been destroyed along with those pesky Death Stars.

But like the enduring saga of good versus evil upon which they're based, a few used the mythic story and fantastical locales very successfully. On the eve of the final "Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," we reflect like a Jedi Master on some of the more memorable moments in Star Wars gaming.

If we're going to cover the entire history of Star Wars games, we'll have to go back to a time long, long ago, when arcades still ruled the galaxy.

Though it debuted years after "Episode IV: A New Hope," Atari's "Star Wars" coin-op in 1983 was just as amazing as the first film's opening space battle.

Using simple but smooth color vector graphics, you piloted an X-Wing through swarms of Imperial TIE fighters, then attacked the Death Star. Many quarters were lost in my quest to defeat the evil galactic empire.

We'll have to fast forward almost a decade before another "Star Wars" game grabbed me so, umm, forcefully.

It was 1992, and the movie prequels were on the distant horizon. But I had a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, one of the most advanced consoles at the time, and a new "Super Star Wars" cartridge that blew me away.

This LucasArts title remains a sentimental favorite - I still dust off my SNES and play from time to time. The game followed the movie events precisely, with stereo sound and excellent color graphics in a side-scrolling adventure. As Luke Skywalker, I ran through the deserts of Tatooine, braved dingy Mos Eisley cantinas, then blew up the Death Star all over again.

Two "Super" follow-ups based on "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" added force powers and other extras but were also light-years tougher.

If you survived "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," then you'll no doubt remember one of its highlights: the exhilarating racing sequence, when the cute, cuddly version of future Sith Lord Darth Vader straps on some goggles and leaves his foes choking on pod fumes.

So what if it came off as a ploy to sell video games? "Star Wars Episode I: Racer," for the PC, Macintosh, Sega Dreamcast, and Nintendo 64 was a high-speed ride through the desert mesas of Tatooine and seven other worlds. No other game simulates racing at 600 mph four feet above the ground so well.

A franchise as storied as this was bound to have its letdowns, and "Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided" certainly fell into that category - particularly when it was first released in 2003.

The massively multiplayer online game looked great but lacked the feel of a dynamic universe. And whether it was intentional or not, becoming a Jedi was nigh impossible, short of quitting your real life job and devoting all waking hours to the pursuit.

"Galaxies" has improved over time, with last fall's "Jump to Lightspeed" expansion pack finally letting players pilot space ships. Another expansion, "Rage of the Wookiees" adds content from the forthcoming movie. Be aware that a vocal group of players are upset with recent changes to the game's combat system, so much so they've petitioned the game makers to change it back.

Two definitive "Star Wars" video games occur thousands of years before the movies.

"Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" in 2003 and last year's "Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords," both for Xbox and the PC, captured the sense of history, action and drama better than most of the movies. It's a fan favorite wrapped in an intriguing role-playing premise: how you act determines which side of the Force you'll follow.

More recently, the franchise has been spun in countless directions:

"Star Wars: Battlefront" for the Playstation 2, Xbox and PC was a first-person shooter where dozens of combatants fought each other with laser turrets and advanced weaponry. Cool ships like TIE-Fighters, however, were impossible to control. A sequel has been announced.

This year's buildup to Sith has already seen some decent "Star Wars" games.

"Star Wars Republic Commando" was a squad-based first-person shooter set during the Clone Wars. Even colored-plastic toy brick maker Lego managed to cross-market its line of Star Wars products with "Lego Star Wars: The Video Game," featuring Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul among the blocky cast of heroes and villains.

Call me a nerf herder for not mentioning more, but there are just too many games to cram into one article.

Some other highlights include "Dark Forces," "Galactic Battlegrounds," "Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast" and the GameCube space shooter "Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II."
As for the future, fret not, young padawan learners.

LucasArts, the video game division of George Lucas' media empire, has plenty of games coming out long after this final movie has left theaters.

MATT SLAGLE
Associated Press

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