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Star Wars: Battlefront: My New Phantom Menace

by William Schwartz

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Although concrete information is scarce, there is already a considerable amount of excitement surrounding EA’s upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront. It’s been almost a decade since the series’ last outing, and many fans are desperate to get their hands on the long-awaited sequel. After the cancelled Star Wars: Battlefront 3, a DICE-developed interpretation of the Battlefront franchise seems like a dream come true. However, I’ve grown apprehensive about the idea of revisiting my favorite childhood game. The easiest way to explain my concern is by looking at another long-awaited Star Wars sequel (or, prequel).

On May 19th, 1999, millions of Star Wars fans across North America packed into theaters and impatiently awaited to be blown away once again by George Lucas; in many ways, they’re still waiting. It had been 16 years since Luke and the gang partied on Endor to celebrate the end of galactic tyranny, and fans were hungry for more stories from the galaxy far, far away. But, there was a lot wrong with The Phantom Menace, and to say it failed to live up to expectations is a huge understatement. In its defense, the hype leading up to Menace was ridiculous. But how could it not have been? After all, the films of the original trilogy weren’t mere movies, they were a cultural phenomenon and part of an entire generation’s collective sense of nostalgia.

Most simply defined as “the pain from an old wound,” nostalgia is that constant yearning we all feel to return to a simpler, more innocent time. Days when we could spend the weekend doing nothing but gaming and not have to worry about being too tired on Monday morning. Mad Men’s Don Draper explains it beautifully here.

 …nostalgia is that constant yearning we all feel to return to a simpler, more innocent time.

Sadly, what makes nostalgia so persistent is that we can’t return to those simpler times; George Lucas is no exception. The efficient and universally accessible storytelling  of Star Wars was replaced by a bloated examination of intergalactic trade laws, and the wonderfully inventive practical effects were replaced by comparatively uninspired CGI. And, Jar Jar Binks. The magic of Star Wars was gone. Even the Force was made less mystic (microscopic organisms? really?). Moviegoers went home disappointed, as they were told once again they weren’t kids anymore.

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Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (2005) came out at the perfect time: my life was still mostly stress-free, and I had recently found my dad’s original trilogy on VHS. I bought Battlefront 2 the day it came out and I was hooked from the first time I rampaged through Kashyyyk as Yoda cutting down Battle Droids. Since then, I’ve probably logged over 1000 hours (possibly much more) in that game; most of them coming when I was 13, during the summer vacation between 7th and 8th grade. There was no school to worry about, and I was still four years away from getting my first job in a Chinese restaurant. My brother and I played that game for about six hours every night for two months straight – you do the math. Sure, the game wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t matter. For the first time, I truly felt as if I was in direct control of my favorite characters from my favorite movies. More importantly, those nights my brother and I spent playing Battlefront 2 were absolutely care-free. Of all my childhood memories, these are hands-down my most cherished.

When I first saw the teaser for Battlefront , I immediately thought of those blissful nights of my childhood, and nostalgia washed over me. A lot has changed since 2005: I’ve since left home for university and entered the workforce, and I rarely get the time to play video games as much as I want to, if ever. This creates a double-edged sword: if DICE knocks Battlefront out of the park, it will mostly serve to frustrate me; I’ll want to play it more than I’ll have the time for, and I’ll be reminded that I’m no longer that boy who could spend six hours in one night playing video games; if the new Battlefront is a disappointment, my memories of Battlefront 2 will be slightly sullied.

Of course, I’ll still pre-order Battlefront, and if there’s a midnight launch for it I’ll probably go wait in line for it when I should be sleeping. I have high expectations for DICE, and I’m sure they’ll be met. Regardless of how good it is, though, I know I won’t be completely satisfied. Like those fans who went home disappointed 15 years ago from The Phantom Menace, I don’t miss a piece of pop culture: I miss being a kid.

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