Forced Perspective - Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Review
How do we move on from the mistakes of the past?
Spoiler Alert I really can't review this game without getting into spoilers. If you'd like a spoiler-free review, I'd recommend Kotaku's article on the game. But, if you're reading this and you're interested in my opinion, I'd recommend playing the game. It's really only a dozen hours to play through, no more than 20 if you're a completionist.
Living in the past
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes place between Episode III and IV. Throughout the game, your character, Cal Kestis, regains his force powers through flashbacks to training with his master, Jaro Tapal. This back-and-forth sets up an interesting “before and after” emotional context that really sets the tone of the game.
Before Order 66, the Jedi are free to train, dive deeper into the mysteries of the Force, and protect the galaxy from the evils it imposes on itself. After the purge, they're scrounging to survive - narrowly avoiding Inquisitors and helping the nascent rebellion as it fails to make a dent in the ever-growing Empire.
As a boy, Cal Kestis can make mistakes. He can fail and get back up again with only a gentle scolding from his master. In the present, where most of the game takes place, a mistake can get you captured, thrown into an arena, and leave you fighting for your life against a managerie of monsters.
The Jedi in Fallen Order are in a precarious position. In the past, failure might have meant a political snafu or a slipping of the balance in favor of the Sith. Before the Empire took control, Jedi accepted failure and used it as a way to learn and become better in their practice. Yet this acceptance of fate and the inevitable consequences of failure is what made them so vulnerable. Their trust that, at the end of the day, people would do what was right is what led them with their back turns to the clones they fought alongside - the clones that ultimately killed them.
As a witness to this mistake, Cal blames himself for not being more attentive, strong and couragous… Until he meets Taron Malicos.
Those who do not learn history…
When I first landed on Dathos, I was totally under-leveled and ran out of there as quickly as I could (only after grabbing the double-bladed lightsaber, of course).
During my short time on the planet, I encountered a mysterious old man who recognized Cal's lightsaber:
Describing himself as a traveler, “studying the nature of extinct cultures and dead philosophies,” the cloaked man hints at his view that the Jedi are, in his eyes, an “extinct culture.”
This belief certainly contrasts with Cal's quest to restore the Jedi Order; and the tension between the two characters can be felt long before their final encounter in the temple of the Nightsisters:
“Restore the Jedi Order?” Taron respond to Cal pityingly, “Oh you poor fool, it's over! Jedi fell long before the Purge. Stifled by tradition. Deafened by our past glories. Blinded by endless war.”
“Maybe,” Cal responds, “But it's never over Malicos. We stand here now with a chance to learn. To rebuild from our mistakes.”
As the dialog continues, it becomes clear that the two disagree on how to move forward in a world shaped by great loss. In Cal's mind, the only way to rebuild is to look back upon the past with questioning eyes. To build something better, the new Jedi Order has to learn from the mistakes of the past and work together - with new allies - to prevent them. This path stands in contrast with Malicos’ focus on newfound power and a fresh start.
I couldn't help but compare this conversation - which ultimately ends in deadly combat - to the one that took place in the United States Congress this past week. After a mob of Trump supporters broke into the US Capitol building, lawmakers returned to session with recollections of historical moments of destruction and reconstruction.
Many senators and representatives likened the refusal to accept the results of November's election to a similar debate that took place during the reconstruction after the American Civil War. These speeches directly connected the refusal to learn from the past with the rise of Jim Crow and the nation's failure to resolve the underlying conflict that caused the war itself.
Just as Malicos preferred to “build something different, something better,” many in America continue to push for a fresh start instead of looking back at how we got here. I couldn't help but identify with Cal's character as I recognized how much more painful it is to see how those that you've looked up to in the past may have failed to live up to the values that they passed along to you. Yet, despite being significantly harder, this approach to building a future will no doubt lead to better decisions and a more stable
democracy Jedi Order.
There is a saying that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” At the end of Jedi Fallen Order, Cal is faced with a decision: to keep the holocron he spent so much time trying to find or to destroy it.
Had he kept it, the path to rebuilding the Order would be straightforward, but full of peril. The location of all the Force users in the galaxy was easily available by anyone wielding the device. In the wrong hands, this information could be fatal. By choosing to destroy the holocron, Cal demonstrates that he has learned from the past mistakes of the Jedi - that being open and trusting can lead to being taken advantage of, or worse.
Life is full of difficult decisions. It's important to remember that many others have had to make similar choices and their path can inform our own. I had a great time playing this game and am really hoping they put out a sequel. In it, I hope to find out if Cal's choice was worth it… and what mistakes he will make that others can learn from.