Ever since the release of Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977, Star Wars has been one of the world’s biggest blockbuster franchises. In the 46 years since, it’s spawned multiple movies, TV spinoffs, comic books, and novels, becoming a huge pop culture phenomenon. Its success has also transferred into the video game space, with the latest game, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, receiving positive reviews despite its poor PC performance.
Star Wars video games are among the best-licensed game properties around and include some fantastic entries. Highlights include 2001’s Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, 2005’s Star Wars: Battlefront II, and 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. However, one of the best games is an Atari arcade classic that holds its own among these modern iterations — one simply named Star Wars.
Revolutionary FPS Star Wars Set the Bar for Arcade Gaming
Stars Wars was released in 1983 and quickly became one of the most popular arcade games ever. Its success was boosted by the fact that Episode VI: Return of the Jedi released just weeks later to conclude the original movie trilogy, so the excitement around the franchise was already at a fever pitch. Still, 40 years on from release, the arcade installment remains one of the best Star Wars video games to date.
It was a first-person shooter that put players in the cockpit of Luke Skywalker’s X-wing fighter. The ultimate goal was to destroy the Death Star by surviving three gameplay phases. Players didn’t have to brutally kill every enemy as long as their ship made it to the end of each level, but doing so certainly made the game easier. Fighting opposing ships and dodging incoming fire were therefore key to a successful run, after which the game would restart at an increased difficulty.
Fans loved the game for its vibrant colored graphics, fast-paced action, and challenging gameplay. These themes have persisted through to even the most recent Star Wars games. However, perhaps most important to its success was the fact that it was also the first game to feature digitized human voices. These included major stars from the movies such as Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, and Harrison Ford. This level of detail and fan service alongside strong gameplay meant that Star Wars set the standard for not only licensed games but video games in general.
Star Wars Laid the Foundation for the Success of Future Star Wars Video Games
The success of Atari’s Star Wars certainly inspired more games to be based on the blockbuster sci-fi franchise. It wasn’t the first Star Wars game, but it was the one that catapulted the franchise’s success within the gaming industry. The fact that it was also a game of real quality meant that it had set the bar for future game licenses, ensuring the standard remained high further down the line.
Its legacy is also ongoing as it heavily inspired key features of future Star Wars games, beyond the fast-paced and challenging core gameplay. For example, the Meridian trench was barren in the original 1977 film, but the arcade game chose to fill it with obstacles to enhance the gameplay challenge. 2001’s iconic GameCube title, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, decided to keep this idea in its Battle of Yavin mission.
The “making of” documentary for the third Rogue Squadron game also confirmed that the arcade original had heavily inspired the entire series and the final game also included the arcade game as an unlockable bonus. Although it’s often overlooked in discussions about the best Star Wars video games, Atari’s 1983 arcade version certainly deserves an important seat at the table not only on its own merit but also for inspiring the Star Wars video game success that followed.