In Replaying the Classics, StarWars.com revisits Star Wars games of yesteryear, examining why we loved them then and why they stand the test of time.
Star Wars video games have a rich history, steeped in decades of Legends lore, and a shining example of this is the beloved Star Wars Jedi Knight series.
When an eagle-eyed fan spotted a Corellian YT-2400 freighter in the Star Wars Rebels Season Three trailer at Celebration Europe in 2016, he asked Dave Filoni, “Are we gonna see Dash Rendar [in Rebels]?” He was referring to what looked to be the Outrider, a Falcon-esque starship featured in 1996’s Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire game. Filoni gently squelched the fan’s hopes when he explained that it was simply another vessel of similar design; Rendar wasn’t likely to show his face in Rebels. Then Darth Maul voice actor Sam Witwer, himself a massive fan of Star Wars games, joked about another possibility: “But Kyle Katarn will be in there.”
So who’s Kyle Katarn, anyway? In the early 1990s, LucasArts set out to build upon the hugely popular first-person shooter genre established by id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. The result was Star Wars: Dark Forces, a hit 1995 FPS that married the quick run-and-gun formula of id’s Doom with Star Wars-caliber storytelling. It told the story of an Imperial turncoat named Kyle Katarn, who, in the now-Legends continuity, was responsible for stealing part of the blueprints for the first Death Star. Born to farmers on one of the moons of Sullust, Katarn had enlisted in the armed forces of the Galactic Empire at the age of 18, while his father quietly aided the Rebellion. After learning that one of the Emperor’s Inquisitors murdered his father, Katarn became a rebel — and, eventually, a reluctant Jedi.
Much of Katarn’s tragic tale takes place in Dark Forces, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (1997), and a Jedi Knight expansion called Mysteries of the Sith (1998). All three won critical acclaim, and are equally worth your time, but Raven Software’s Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (2002) is arguably the culmination of everything that made the series great. To get the most of Outcast’s lore-intensive narrative, consider playing the first two games as well as Mysteries of the Sith, and maybe even check out Drew Karpyshyn’s novel of the ancient Sith, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, while you’re at it.
With all that out of the way, however, Jedi Outcast is just a fabulous playground in which to live out your biggest Star Wars fantasies. The game begins as a straightforward first-person shooter in the vein of Dark Forces; anyone who picks up Jedi Outcast after playing the Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) campaign will see the clear lineage between the two. Katarn (Jeff Bennett, who later voiced Revan in BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic) will start out wielding familiar weapons like the E-11 blaster rifle and his trusty K-16 Bryar pistol, his longtime partner Jan Ors (Vanessa Marshall of Hera Syndulla fame) at his side, as they investigate new stirrings within the post-Endor Imperial Remnant.
The worlds of Jedi Outcast are vast, at times labyrinthine, and you’ll regularly feel compelled to stray from the task at hand to explore, seek out hidden secrets, and take in the sights. There’s a hint of retro charm to the game’s 2002 textures and models, but the environments boast such exquisite lighting and epic scale that they seem utterly timeless. You won’t forget which galaxy you’re in.
After witnessing a terrible tragedy, Katarn seeks out the spirits that reside in a place called the Valley of the Jedi (you really ought to read Path of Destruction). His connection with the Force rekindled, he heads to Yavin 4 to retrieve his lightsaber from an old friend: Luke Skywalker (Bob Bergen). Katarn, no stranger to the dangerous lure of the dark side, doesn’t give in to hate; this isn’t a straightforward tale of revenge, and nothing’s quite what it seems. Kyle’s journey sees him once again becoming a Jedi Knight, impressing even Skywalker with the depths of his strength, and bringing a fallen Jedi — a memorable saurian named Desann (the late Mark Klastorin) — to justice.
For a story that begins with Katarn picking up his lightsaber to exact vengeance, its ending almost couldn’t be more Jedi-like.
Come for the classic Doom-style gunplay, Jedi action, and Force puzzles; stay for the online one-on-one lightsaber duels in familiar Star Wars locations, like Cloud City and the Death Star. For years, Jedi Outcast has maintained a reputation for being one of the best Jedi-centric gaming experiences ever made. Game Informer magazine once deemed it “the most enjoyable and accomplished Star Wars game yet,” and it’s aged as gracefully as any fan could hope for. If you’re new to the realm of Star Wars Legends but you love video games, rediscover the Valley of the Jedi. Take your first step into a larger world.
Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Syfy Wire, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.