Ever since I saw Star Wars in theaters for the first time in 1977, I’ve wanted to “play” in that universe. My first obsessions were Stormtroopers and those cool suits of armor. As a seven-year-old I schemed daily on how to get my mitts on one. I imagined being part of the Empire, roaming the “galaxy” and enforcing Darth Vader’s will onto those who would oppose us, all the while looking cool in my shiny white duds. Needless to say I was not able to procure Stormtrooper armor, not even the Ben Cooper version. In lieu of not possessing the coveted costume, I decided my only hope to play an active part in George Lucas’ universe was to dream up scenarios and situations and act them out using my stable of Kenner action figures and vehicles. Ah, the hours and hours of fun I had! But as good a time as I was having manipulating my plastic alter-egos during countless adventures, I still didn’t feel as immersed as I wanted to be. That all changed in 1982 when a friend of mine bought The Empire Strikes Back by Parker Bros. for the Atari 2600. I finally got to be the action figure as I flew a snowspeeder against literally endless waves of AT-ATs.
It wasn’t too long thereafter that I got a taste of what was to be my favorite Star Wars video game of all time — Star Wars by Atari. Featuring “cutting edge” 3D color vector graphics, this arcade-only title blew the doors off my teenage mind. The sheer joy of being Luke Skywalker while flying an X-wing in the final assault against the Death Star, dogfighting against not only normal pilots but Darth Vader himself, was something I only dreamed about! But there I was, sitting in a “cockpit” (err, the sit-down arcade cabinet) saving the galaxy defeating wave after wave of TIE fighters. It didn’t matter to me that it was the same experience over and over again, albeit more challenging. I was 12 years old, living out my ultimate fantasy. The only thing that could have been better is if The Last Starfighter-scenario played out in real-life, with me behind the controller knocking out the high-score only to have Luke Skywalker descend from the stars to recruit me for the Rebellion.
Well, that disappointment aside, one of the great things about video games, and Star Wars games in particular, is that you the player gets to be the action figure. You get to control your character, bend them to your will, and be the hero. During the 1980s games were pretty rudimentary and simplistic in their delivery, but that didn’t matter. It was a new visceral and empowering experience. As the years progressed, video games became more complex in their delivery. Gamers didn’t have to settle for simple sprites and wholly repetitive action. Whereas the first Star Wars arcade game threw wave-after-similar-wave of fighters at the player, games like Star Wars: X-wing and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron built and expanded upon the feeling of being an ace pilot. Where Nintendo’s Super Star Wars enable gamers to play the part of Luke Skywalker in a side-scrolling action adventure, the Jedi Knight series enabled people to play as a new hero, Kyle Katarn, in a first-person perspective in such titles as Star Wars: Dark Forces and Star Wars: Jedi Knight — Dark Forces II. And the list goes on and on.
So, while I may be considered “too old” to play with action figures (though I must admit I haven’t stopped yet), I will never be too old to be the action figure. Whether I’m blasting my way through Star Wars: Battlefront, zeroing in on opposing starships in Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, or slicing through foes in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I can always find solace in knowing my direct actions will always enable me to be the hero of the day. And really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted anyway.
Brett Rector is a life-long fan of Star Wars who has had the privilege of making a career out of being a living action figure.