This post over at Blue Kae got me wondering why I am so much looking forward to Star Wars the Old Republic (which I have yet to pre-order, but plan to soon). My expectations for it as a viable long term MMO commitment aren't particularly stellar. However, as a game that I'll play for a month or two and enjoy, they are pretty high. More broadly, why do still I care about the Star Wars franchise at all after George Lucas pissed all over it with his atrocious prequels?
The prequels bit, to be sure. Considered as pure visual spectacles they were impressive. However, that's all Lucas seemed to care about. Considered as narratives they were utter failures. None of the characters were believable or compelling. For example, the "romance" between Padme and Anikan has to be among the least believable in cinema history. The movies seemed to almost be actively attempting to sabotage some of the more compelling elements of the original trilogy. Me watching Ep I: "Midichlorians? Really?!? WTF?" The movies were an absolute insult to Star Wars fans, and arguably to American moviegoers in general. [More entertaining takes on these issues here and here].
Despite my dislike of the prequels, I still find the Star Wars universe intriguing. It seamlessly blends fantasy and science fiction elements in a way that few other franchises do. Perhaps ironically, games based on the prequels were generally much better than the movies they were based on. Even if GL was an utter hack, game designers seemed to generally get the feel of Star Wars right (a few travesties excepted). While GL was putting out mindless incoherent drivel every two years, some of my favorite games set in the Star Wars universe also came out.
Star Wars Star Fighter I and II were among my favorite PS2 games, and considered as side stories that expanded the Star Wars franchise they were a screaming ton better than the movies. Not as simmy as the old X-wing PC games (which I also adored), but they still gave you a believable illusion of flying around in a star fighter. The last stage of SWSF remains among the most impressive experiences I've ever had in a game. I also really enjoyed the pod racing games on the N64, the DC, and the PS2. A long kind of silly scene in the first movie inspired sci-fi racers that compared favorably with Wipeout and Extreme G.
But those games were small potatoes. The games that really truly convinced me that the Star Wars universe remained a compelling setting for narratives were KoTOR and KoTOR II. Say what you will of the bugs in KoTOR II (none of which I actually experienced, but many others did), it had an extremely compelling narrative. Further, KoTOR remains one of my all time favorite games. I have never experienced heartbreak in a game like I did going through the evil track there. Some of the things I did toward the end disturb me a bit to this day.
When I see evil played out in a movie, I don't feel in any way responsible for it. However, when I actively choose to have my character screw someone over in a game, it can make me experience real twinges of guilt. KoTOR showed me how games can be a compelling artistic medium in a way that's quite distinct from passive experiences like books and movies.
When it comes right down to it, I'm a fan of Star Wars as much for the fun I've I've had playing various games set in the universe as I am from the movies I saw as a child (Ep. IV-VI). Because of that, the atrocious prequels really didn't do much to diminish my love of the franchise. Episode I may have been one of the stupidest movies ever filmed, but flying around in one of those neat backwards looking retro Star Fighters and blowing shit up sure was fun in SWSF. And the Old Republic has jack all to do with the characters and events of the prequels. KoTOR I and II were the real sequels to Ep IV-VI in my mind, not the horrific train wrecks that GL filmed.
On the balance I'm really looking forward to SWTOR. I'm expecting KoTOR III, and really nothing more. If it turns out to be a decent MMO on top of that, so much the better. Regardless, I expect to get $60 worth of fun out of it. And that's all I really need to be satisfied. If you don't care about Star Wars, and particularly if you didn't like the KoTOR games, I can see that there would be nothing too exciting about SWTOR to you. Apart from having a deeper narrative than most, it looks to be a pretty by the numbers quest/ level based MMO. However, if you are a fan of KoTOR (most game critics certainly were), there's every reason to be excited about it.