When you played with Star Wars toys, did your Chewbacca ever ride a tauntaun, your Leia pilot an X-wing, or your Han drive a landspeeder? Or did your figures go on other adventures in the land of Star Wars make-believe? Thanks to Rise Against the Empire — a new Play Set available tomorrow for Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition — they can again.
Over the years, there’ve been many different takes on Star Wars in video games. Shooters. Side-scrolling adaptations. Racers. But there’s never been anything quite like Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition‘s interpretation of a galaxy far, far away. A toys-to-life game, it allows players to experience the stories of the saga but with the creativity and humor and imagination of childhood play. And it continues with Rise Against the Empire, which brilliantly recreates the original trilogy in the Disney Infinity tradition.
To mark the release of Rise Against the Empire, StarWars.com caught up with producer Orion Kellogg of the Lucasfilm Games Team for some behind-the-scenes intel.
1. The game’s creators revisited vintage Star Wars toys for inspiration. For Star Wars fans, toys and play are a big part of experiencing a galaxy far, far away. It’s one of the reasons Star Wars‘ inclusion in Disney Infinity makes so much sense. And for Rise Against the Empire, the game’s creators didn’t forget where that legacy began. “Lucasfilm’s [brand creative director] Hez Chorba and the development teams went back to the old Kenner toys,” says Kellogg, “and looked to see what it was about the way they were designed that impacted us so much, and helped us stay connected to the Star Wars universe into the ’90s and beyond. There’s a heritage between toys and Star Wars, and they all kind of feed each other, but they do so in the service of authentic storytelling. I think what was really awesome about the Kenner line, particularly, was a lot of them were very active toys. These were toys where the missiles might fire or the wings would shoot out. There was a sort of visceral nature that we felt might translate well to a video game and connected perfectly with the Disney Infinity vision.”
How direct an influence were the vintage toys on Rise Against the Empire? In one case, very much so, and fans of the Rebellion’s furry companions have much to be excited about. “If you go to Endor, we want it to feel like you’re stepping into the Kenner Ewok Village playset and we think the development team nailed that perfectly. That means that when you push a button, doors fall down and open and there’s a world inside. The type of stuff you could only imagine as a kid, but now it’s actually there.”
2. There are enough Easter Eggs to fill a space cruiser. Rise Against the Empire is a treasure trove of nods and in-jokes to fans. Look to the sky on Tatooine and you’ll spot a starship from a classic Nintendo 64 game. There are tauntaun heads on the wall in Jabba’s palace. A no-Droids-allowed sign in front of the Mos Eisley cantina.
“One of the particularly fun ones is that you can knock on the door of Jabba’s palace and not only will you have the eye pop out at you,” says Kellogg, “but once you enter, you’ll actually hear a rancor growling in the cage just beneath your feet. That was one we weren’t sure was going to make it in, but the team was just so in love with Jabba’s palace that they made it happen.”
3. The fate of Jar Jar — revealed at last! Having all the main Star Wars heroes playable in Rise Against the Empire presented the game makers with some continuity puzzles. One the biggest being that it wouldn’t make sense to have Han Solo find himself hanging on the wall in Jabba’s palace. The team found a solution to this problem right at home: At Lucasfilm’s headquarters in San Francisco is a fan-made, life-sized prop of the galaxy’s most famous Gungan frozen in carbonite. It’s awesome, and it’s in the game. “We put Jar Jar in carbonite as a nod to the statue,” Kellogg says. “We did take photos of it for reference. That’s a very local Easter Egg.” Bombad.
4. The Lucasfilm Story Group, which oversees Star Wars storytelling across mediums, helped shape the narrative elements of the game. As a new kind of adaptation of the original trilogy, Rise Against the Empire required some special collaboration. “The very talented storytellers at Studio Gobo and Avalanche worked with our team and the Story Group to develop the core beats of the entire story,” Kellogg says. “Pablo Hidalgo, Leland Chee, and Diana Williams of the Story Group were all involved in helping us write this story, nuts to bolts. For this game, we all sat down in a room and broke story, because the challenge we had was to get almost nine hours of movie into one Play Set and onto three planets.”
It’s an aspect of the game that’s handled remarkably well. Should you choose to play as Chewbacca on Tatooine in the beginning of the game, you can still make your way to Ben Kenobi’s hut, even though that never happened in A New Hope. The whole gang will be there, but Luke gets to have his key moment where he learns his father was a Jedi and is given his Lightsaber. It’s a storytelling-meets-gameplay technique that still allows for true authenticity to Star Wars. “We didn’t want to lose any of the core character beats,” Kellogg says. “First and foremost, we wanted to bring the saga of Star Wars to life through the characters. What would Han Solo do if he’d been on the Tantive IV? In the game, we have him blast an escape path for his friends. Whenever you play as Princess Leia, you’ll find her rallying the group against the Empire. And Luke Skywalker wrestles with his lineage — and his great destiny — even without stepping foot on Bespin. We tried to pick which events were most important for the characters, and the Story Group was a huge help with this.”
5. The game pays tribute to original trilogy concept artist Ralph McQuarrie. Disney Infinity has always had unlockables and rewards for players; when it came to Rise Against the Empire, the team wanted to use that feature to honor the legacy of concept art in Star Wars — and the man whose work continues to inspire Star Wars creators. “In developing this game, we were developing three parts of a very cohesive saga,” says Kellogg. “One element that unites all of these is the concept art of Ralph McQuarrie. It’s a central pillar for Rise Against the Empire. So when you go out and find Holocrons in Rise Against the Empire and the other Play Sets, you’ll unlock the original concept art that inspired Tatooine, or the original Chewbacca concept art. You’ll find that stuff in Infinity, and we think that’s a way to teach kids how it all came together.”
6. Looking to take down an AT-AT? Finally, you can use more than harpoons and tow cables. The Battle of Hoth has been featured in Star Wars games dating back to the Atari 2600. But thanks to the toys-to-life concept of Disney Infinity, the developers were freed from the restrictions of realism. “We wanted to reimagine these stories,” Kellogg says. “The Infinity team was very clear about this vision. Like, ‘Hey, a kid is not just going to copy what they saw on the screen. They’re going to pick up these toys and have their own battle.’ In the Battle of Hoth, if you want to do it just like you saw it in the movie, you can take a snowspeeder and wrap around an AT-AT’s legs to take it down. But if you’ve always wondered what it might be like to climb up an AT-AT, Shadows of the Colossus-style, you’ll find ways to take it down up there. We’ve never done that before in a game and we think what they came up with turned out really well. You can rip off one of the panels and take out its batteries and, just like any toy, it’s gonna go down. Or, if you’re a little more clever, you can pull out its control panel, then use it like a remote control, and you have your very own AT-AT. That kind of interactivity is something you can only do in Infinity.”
This mentality extends beyond Hoth, however. On Tatooine, you can race landspeeders, ride banthas, and throw Jawas into the Sarlacc. On Endor, you can do speeder bike time trials. On Death Star II, you can use Han Solo to fight Darth Vader. It’s really like playing with Star Wars toys, mixing and matching characters and creatures and vehicles, as it should be. “We want everything the game pushes to be authentically character driven and story driven, but once we put the controller in your hands, we want you to be able to tell the story you want to tell. What fun is a tauntaun that you can’t ride, or a gun that you can’t shoot, or an escape pod that you can’t steer? We did everything we could to let the player have as much fun as possible.”
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.