Star Wars has been a cultural touchstone since the original film debuted in theaters more than 40 years ago. Today, the Star Wars brand is still led by the ongoing movie series. Each Star Wars movie release stirs frantic buzz across the world, and with Disney+, that even extends to television now with series like The Mandalorian.
It seeps into video games, too, and although there are a lot of bad Star Wars games, recent ones like Jedi: Fallen Order prove they can be good. Let’s take a look at the best Star Wars games, ranging from third-person shooters to full-blown role-playing games.
Bioware’s first foray into the vast reaches of space — before the blockbuster Mass Effect series — came in 2003, with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
While the combat can feel a bit choppy and sluggish at times, the game’s true value lies in its gripping narrative and incredibly detailed world. KOTOR, as fans call it, features an epic story spread across 10 locations and hundreds of unique characters, each with well-written dialogue and interesting backstories. No Star Wars adventure outside of the films feels quite as expansive and detailed as this.
If you’re a Star Wars and Dark Souls fan (or just a masochist), the Super Nintendo’s Super Star Wars series might be right up your alley. The majority of the game is a Contra-style side-scroller featuring some platforming elements and lots of baddies to blow through, with several iconic boss battles that test both your skill and your patience.
During the course of the game, you take control of the series’s most iconic heroes — Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca — along with a fun bonus option later in the story. Though Return of the Jedi is probably the easiest of the three, they are all ruthless. Super Return of the Jedi is also the most polished and offers more varied gameplay than Episodes IV and V.
These days, if a developer were to co-opt a popular intellectual property, re-skin a popular game, and release it, they would likely get ridiculed. In the 1990s, though, years after Return of the Jedi, fans were just happy to play anything with stormtroopers on the cover. Enter Star Wars: Dark Forces, which paired the gameplay of Doom with the mythos of Star Wars. Dark Forces added a few tricks to set it apart, including the ability to jump, crouch, and look up or down.
Though the efforts of Kyle Katarn were wiped from the Star Wars canon with the sequel trilogy and, more importantly, the Rogue One film, there is something endearing and classic about its first-person shooting. Available for next to nothing on Steam, it still plays excellently in 2019.
In Jedi Academy, players take control of Jaden Korr, a Jedi trainee learning his or her craft at the Jedi Academy on Yavin IV following the original trilogy. As players complete missions, they build up a host of Jedi powers, which can be used to flesh out awesome duels against Sith assassins. Those mechanics are superb; developers Raven Software made excellent use of Quake III‘s id Tech 3 engine to give saber fights a weighty, epic feel. There’s also a smattering of platforming action, and it’s used more effectively than in Jedi Outcast (which is also worth playing, while we’re on the subject). If you want to play as a Dark Side master, that is also an option, letting your enemies know true fear with powerful force abilities.
Even better, the game is on the Nintendo Switch, letting a new generation of Padawan learners experience the game and understand why the Expanded Universe stories are so important to longtime fans.
If you’ve ever thought, “man, those pesky rebels are really giving the Emperor a bad name,” you’re in luck! The 1994 flight simulator allows you to step into the shoes of an Imperial pilot, tasked with defending the Empire against a host of undesirables, including Rebellion forces, traitorous Imperial deserters, and space pirates (presumably before they discovered planet Zebes).
Players’ ships are equipped with weapons, shields, and engine boosters; the core gameplay revolves around these three systems, as you’ll need to allocate a finite amount of energy between the three. TIE Fighter is immersive and exciting, with just enough strategy to feel challenging without driving you to frustration. The story, advanced via cutscenes and in-mission voiceover, provides a unique take on the traditional good-and-evil Star Wars paradigm.
Given the massive success of the recent Star Wars sequel films like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, you would think a video game would have been developed that put us in the shoes of a Jedi Knight almost immediately. That didn’t happen, however, until Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts released Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in late 2019. Set between the events of the prequel films and Episode IV, Fallen Order puts you in the shoes of Cal Kestis, a former Padawan who managed to survive Order 66 and go into hiding from the Empire.
After he learns of the Empire’s plans for the future, however, he’s forced to reveal himself as a Jedi-to-be, and takes the fight to some of the galaxy’s most insidious enemies. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order balances fan service with great action-driven gameplay, combining the combat of the Souls series with Uncharted-like traversal to create a must-play Star Wars game for even casual fans.
Read our full Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order review
Star Wars Battlefront II received a lot of flack upon release, and rightfully so. EA essentially put a free-to-play model in a paid game, tying the progression system to loot boxes and giving players that paid more a significant edge. It seems EA learned its lesson, though. Mere months after release, EA lost $3 billion in stock value, prompting developer DICE to quickly begin work on overhauling the progression system.
Battlefront II still isn’t perfect, but it’s been massively improved since its 2017 release. Say what you will about EA’s monetization practices, but Battlefront II is an exhilarating and graphically astounding Star Wars adventure. It feels less intrusive with the overhauled progression system, too. If you skipped the original release or couldn’t stand the progression system, Battlefront II is worth a second look with the updates it has received.
Read our Star Wars Battlefront II review
In Shadows of the Empire, players take control of mercenary Dash Rendar, who acts as a sort of Rebel utility man; whether you need a pilot, a soldier, or a racer, Dash is your guy. The game opens during the Battle of Hoth, as Dash takes control of a snowspeeder to try and repel the Imperial invasion. The level might seem goofy and terrible now that we’ve played about 20 different versions of the battle, but if this were 1996, we would all be freaking out about how cool it is.
After disembarking, Dash spends several missions on foot, where you can choose between several camera viewpoints; controlling Dash can be a chore in Shadows, especially when you accidentally walk off a ledge and subsequently have to start the whole level over. Still, as with many older games, the difficulty is part of the charm, and the game features some truly trying boss battles to go with a varied level design.
Despite boasting gorgeous graphics and the type of large-scale, first-person battles that fans have come to expect from Battlefield series developer DICE, the 2015 reboot of Star Wars Battlefront was met with mixed reviews and a sense of malaise, although its microtransactions were later removed and its progression system overhauled to better reward skilled performance. To be fair, the game was forced to stand next to the original Battlefront series, which built up a large and surprisingly devoted following.
Released in 2005, the first Star Wars Battlefront II was a masterclass in third-person shoot-em-up gameplay, placing players in the middle of huge battles with dozens of soldiers, making you feel like you’re in the middle of the film series’s legendary battles.
Most of the time, players fill the shoes of a regular soldier — choosing from different classes like the rocketeering Rebel Vanguard and the repair-centric Imperial Engineer — but can also occasionally take control of powerful Jedi or Sith hero units like Han Solo and Darth Maul. The gameplay isn’t exactly smooth, but there are lots of different maps to choose from, and the domination-style gameplay is extremely enjoyable. Hell, you can even fight in space!
Many of the games on this list are challenging; some, like Return of the Jedi, are difficult undertakings for even the most battle-hardened gamers. If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, the Lego Star Wars games offer a more casual take on video games in a galaxy far, far away.
The Complete Saga combines 2005’s Lego Star Wars: The Video Game and 2006’s Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy into one monstrous title that follows the events of Episodes I through VI — in Lego brick form, of course. If you’re unfamiliar with the Lego game adaptations, here’s the basic idea: Jump, fight, and solve puzzles in Lego-style adaptations of pop-culture touchstones. In the Lego Star Wars games, players take control of iconic characters from the franchise — in total, there are around 100 to choose from, many of whom must be unlocked — switching between characters during missions, when necessary. Each figurine possesses different abilities, like jumping extra high or deflecting blaster bolts with a lightsaber.
We’re unsure, however, how long this particular collection is going to stay on our list, as a series-wide remake called Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will combine the stories of the original trilogy, prequel trilogy, and sequel trilogy into one epic game in 2020.