This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel.
A month before the December 18 release of the seventh Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, fans can get their fix of light sabers, starfighters and wookies in a galaxy far, far away inside EA DICE’s online shooter game, Star Wars: Battlefront. Drawing heavily on the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI for the uninitiated), as well as from the new film, the game hopes to bridge the best of Star Wars in one epic online battlefield. But with a franchise so vast, and expectations so high, is it really possible to unite 38 years of stories, millions of fans and one galaxy into something coherent?’
“To me, and to the vast majority of fans out there, Star Wars is one place,” said Battlefront design director Niklas Fegraeus, referring to George Lucas’ vast and complex universe. “We tend to separate the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy and new films — but they all take part in one universe,” he said, adding that coherence is not just about connecting the dots. Fegraeus is almost evangelical about the possible breadth of Star Wars. “It has these different stories,” he explained.
This single universe vision is what lies at the heart of Battlefront. It’s not Star Wars as a single myth, a bedtime story told the same way every time — it’s Star Wars as an enormous world in which to play. In Battlefront, the coherence doesn’t just come from the details, it comes from the way the world feels. “You know when you watched the films for the first time and the universe was believable and relatable?” Fegraeus asked. “Science fiction prior to Star Wars was a lot of super alien environments.”
The feeling of believability is exactly what makes Star Wars, well, Star Wars. As in the movies, where viewers get transported to a fantasy land, Battlefront offers a fully immersive experience. Players can visit familiar planets, engage in multi-player battles, “fly” the Millennium Falcon or a TIE fighter, and become the heroes or villains they know so well from the films.
In order to achieve this immersive intimacy, Fegraeus and his team visited the original shooting locations for the planets of Endor, Hoth and Tatooine, where they captured the sounds and feels of those distinct places. It was this process that Fegraeus sees as central to achieving the “reality” of these fictional locations. When the team was sitting in front of their computers in Sweden, it was helpful to have traveled to the places they were trying to recreate. This same process informed how the developers created Battlefront’s new world, Sullust. An expansion of a throwaway line from Return of The Jedi, this volcanic world is perhaps the perfect symbol of the meeting point between the old and the new. The team created this new planet by using the same methods as capturing the old ones, traveling to Iceland for inspiration.
Then there is Jakku, the DLC map that allows players to fight in the battle that takes place 29 years before The Force Awakens and forms a key part of the film’s backstory. A key location for the new trilogy, its inclusion in Battlefront means that players will understand how the planet came to be scattered with the remains of Star Destroyers when they rush to the cinema. Placed alongside the rest of Battlefront’s planets, Jakku suddenly becomes part of a history, a universe of stories that, no matter how distant, can always be bridged.
For Fegraeus that is what, even after living and breathing Star Wars every day for the last two years, is so exciting about the game’s universe. He explains how his nine-year-old son loves Star Wars but that the books and games change the experience. “Star Wars is a mixed bag of all these narratives, all these characters and all these places,” Fegraeus said of his son’s view of the story. “It’s all just Star Wars.”
Battlefront, both in the painstaking detail of its creation and its intention to capture the feeling of Star Wars and not just the facts, is testament to this view. Many hope that The Force Awakens might be part of a grand return for Star Wars, a comeback of legendary proportions. But if Battlefront’s careful act of bridging tells us anything, it’s that, in reality, Star Wars never left.