Last month at E3 2019, boutique publisher Limited Run Games announced a full slate of classic Star Wars games they’d be rereleasing in premium physical editions. Among their list of offerings were the Game Boy and NES versions of the LucasArts and Sculptured Software Empire Strikes Back adaptation, as well as the fan-favorite 3D blockbuster Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Starting Friday, July 26, at 10 a.m. ET, the Raleigh, North Carolina, publisher will be taking orders for all three of these classic cartridges, which come packaged with action-figure cardbacks perfect for fans who like to display their collections. The titles are available in limited quantities only; once they’re gone, they’re gone. StarWars.com called up Limited Run co-founder Josh Fairhurst to reminisce about these timeless gems.
StarWars.com: It’s funny. Shadows was the first Star Wars game I ever played, which is pretty common for my generation, and then Empire Strikes Back on the Game Boy was the first Star Wars game I actually owned. Do you have any special memories of these particular titles?
Josh Fairhurst: I’m probably not much older than you. I’m 32, so the N64 was a pretty big console for me. I could have played some of the older games, but my family never really had good computers, so every time I’d get a Star Wars game for PC expecting to be able to play, my computer would never run it. So Shadows of the Empire was my first time actually getting to play a fully 3D, real Star Wars game, and kind of getting engrossed in that universe in video-game form. Which was huge for me, as a fan of the movies.
I wasn’t very good at that game as a kid; I’m much better at it now. So most of my memories of Shadows of the Empire revolve around just playing that Hoth sequence over and over and over again, ’cause I was just miserably bad at any levels beyond that. But I loved going through Echo Base and taking down the AT-ATs. I have very fond memories of that game, because it was an early launch-window N64 title, and there weren’t a whole lot of games to play on the system at the time. I probably played that game for like a hundred hours.
StarWars.com: Shadows of the Empire’s just filled with these big, wild Star Wars moments. What do you think younger players are gonna be most excited by when they finally discover that game?
Josh Fairhurst: I think they’re gonna like seeing a lot of the classic characters, like IG-88 and Boba Fett. IG-88 didn’t really get any chance to shine in the movies, so fighting IG-88 and getting some more background on that character’s gonna be nice. And Dash Rendar, who, for a lot of people, is one of their favorite [Legends] characters. I think they’re gonna enjoy just seeing some of the story content, because Shadows of the Empire was a big deal for Star Wars fans in the ’90s. There was a book, a soundtrack, a comic; it was a multimedia event. It almost felt like a new movie, so it has this kind of epic scale to it that a lot of older games don’t. And I think fans are gonna really appreciate that — going back and rediscovering it.
StarWars.com: Like the Star Wars run you did in June, all three of these are on old-school plastic cartridges, which just last forever. What do you like best about that format?
Josh Fairhurst: I’ve always been a fan of cartridges, because there’s just something visceral about being able to pick one up and plug it into a system. There’s something about that that’s really satisfying. And discs get scratched. It’s the same reason I collect Star Wars action figures; there’s something about having that bulky plastic thing to put on your shelf that’s just incredibly appealing.
StarWars.com: Star Wars games and experiences are basically a microcosm of consumer-electronics history. Even now, we’re seeing that with the Jedi Challenges AR experience and Vader Immortal in VR. What opportunity does Star Wars present for Limited Run’s mission statement, so to speak?
Josh Fairhurst: Our big thing has always been preserving games in a cool way. And, obviously, these games were already well preserved when they were released, for the most part. But one of the things that bothers me, as a collector, is when you put these older PC games on a shelf, the box formats are all different. You’ve got the original board-game-style box for Dark Forces, which is closer to the LucasArts adventure games; then Jedi Knight has this very flimsy, foil box — I have yet to find one that’s actually in good shape, because the box was oversized and doesn’t match up to the original Dark Forces. And then Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy are in small, early-2000s PC boxes.
So if you just wanna put these four games up on your shelf and look at the series as a whole, it just looks messy, and from a collector’s standpoint I wanted to create something that standardizes everything and makes your shelf look really clean. To create releases that are kind of premium, and celebrate the legacy of these very important games that impacted and affected a lot of people.
And for the PC releases, one of the things we’re gonna look into doing is to try to include all the different versions of a game on one disc, so you might have DOS, Windows, and Mac all on one disc. So it’s more preserved than, say, just a standalone DOS release, ’cause everything will be all in one place.
StarWars.com: Both of these games have some seriously tough boss fights. Do you have a favorite, or maybe one that gave you a lot of trouble back in the day?
Josh Fairhurst: It’s not a boss fight, but in Shadows of the Empire, the wampas in Echo Base — they’re intimidating. They kind of just slowly walk towards you, and they take a thousand shots to actually kill. A couple people in my office remembered them as being unkillable; they’re not, but on any difficulty other than easy, they’re gonna get to you before you can take them down. So they’re this imposing threat that, if I ever let them loose, it just means being scared and having to run out of the room away from them. And in Shadows, Boba Fett’s awesome. You can’t really top that.
In Empire Strikes Back, I used to always get lost in a cave at the start. Going back to it now, the AT-AT fight’s really cool, because it does this effect with the sprites where it makes it actually look like you’re kind of moving around the field in 3D, and it’s neat to see that on NES, so I really like it in that regard.
StarWars.com: Your Bounty Hunter rerelease on the PS4 sold out fast. What was the response to that one like?
Josh Fairhurst: Very good. Bounty Hunter’s one of those games that — for a lot of people who were there when the prequel trilogy was coming out — they really liked that game, and have fond memories of it. Because Jango’s such a cool character, and that one sold really well back in the day, so getting to rerelease it on PS4 was a pretty big deal for us. So, generally, the excitement was very high for it. I’m incredibly excited for the Racer Revenge release we have coming out on PS4, because I’m a big fan of Star Wars Episode I: Racer. That’s probably my favorite Star Wars game.
StarWars.com: Limited Run is really just getting started with its Star Wars partnership. What’s the next big exciting thing on the horizon?
Josh Fairhurst: Our next batch is going to be the Racer games. We’re doing the original Racer on 64, Racer for PC, and then Racer Revenge on PS4. And I’m really excited about that because, like I said, I loved Racer on N64 and I love Racer Revenge.
Then, after that, I think our next thing is gonna be Dark Forces, which I’m also excited about. Because when I did finally get around to playing that game when I was younger, I loved it. And I think that Dark Forces is a pretty formative game for a lot of Star Wars fans, and it features Kyle Katarn, who everybody loves. So I think there’s gonna be a lot of hype going into that one.
Shadows of the Empire (Nintendo 64) and The Empire Strikes Back (Game Boy; NES) will be available in new premium physical editions from Limited Run Games on Friday, July 26, at 10 a.m. ET.
Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Fangoria, Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.
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