I’m seeing a lot of retrospective reviews of the Star Wars films in the lead up to the release of The Force Awakens. Given that it isn’t a film, it’s not surprising The Force Unleashed isn’t being included. But it really ought to be part of the Star Wars canon, for one reason alone:
The Force Unleashed is the Vader story we were promised by the prequel trilogy.
George Lucas asserts that the Star Wars series is the story of Anakin Skywalker, his fall and his redemption. But the originals are Luke’s story, not Anakin’s. So whilst the prequels chart the fall, the originals don’t deliver on the promise of a similar tale of the redemption; that’s relegated to a plot twist in the final film. To tell Anakin’s story, we should have spent time with him in the darkness and seen him fight his way back to the light. Which is exactly the story of The Force Unleashed, albeit via a different character.
Set between the prequels and the originals, the video game focuses on Galen Marek, Vader’s secret apprentice. Taken by Vader as a child, Galen was raised in the Dark Side to be Vader’s assassin and his ally in overthrowing the Emperor. The Force Unleashed is Galen’s time mired in darkness and his journey to the light. A journey that is, perhaps, more interesting than Vader’s own.
The key to Vader’s redemption is the relationship between a father and son. When Sean Williams wrote the novelisation of The Force Unleashed, he focused on the relationship between a man and a woman. But the key to Galen’s redemption is, in fact, that same father/son relationship, only reversed. After all, Vader is more or less Galen’s adoptive father. But Vader displays no paternal warmth or regard for his charge. He treats Galen no better than a tool. And, despite a lifetime of anger, hate, disdain and misuse, Galen is still loyal to his master, or his father. Like a dog whose master kicks him, Galen might sometimes hates Vader, but he can never bite.
Vader inadvertently sets Galen on the path to the light by urging him to stoke a rebellion, to distract the Emperor so Vader can overthrow him. In doing so, Galen is forced to commit acts of heroism to attract his newfound rebels. He is exposed to decency and good. He is given agency and space to grow close to his pilot, Juno. All steps towards the light, and all the more interesting because it tears him between his new friends and his old master. Whereas we have to rely on Luke telling us he feels conflict in Vader, The Force Unleashed shows us how torn Galen is, how he struggles to reconcile his growing goodness with his habitual darkness. But that darkness can’t be broken by Galen’s friends or his love for Juno; it can only be broken by the man who nutured it.
Because, again, it’s Vader that pushes Galen into the light by betraying him for the final time. When Vader casts him aside, you can see the anguish, the confusion and the hurt in Galen’s face. He is abandoned. Lost. It’s a beautiful, tragic moment, sold by great acting. A moment in which a character can find light in his darkest moment. His Sith father has disowned him. But he is finally free to disown his old teachings. To become a Jedi.
The Force Unleashed also has some great supporting characters (like a droid programmed to kill Galen yet also keep him alive), plenty of tie-ins with existing canon (Princess Leia, the Clone Wars, the birth of the Rebellion), and the aforementioned superb performances from Sam Witwer as Galen and Matt Sloane as Vader. But even if it didn’t, giving us such a fantastic journey out of the Dark Side is enough to earn The Force Unleashed a place in the Star Wars canon.
Plus it’s a darned good game to boot.