Saturday, fans witnessed some rare insights into the story, characters, and development of the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, LucasArts’ Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game. Set during the “dark times” between Episodes III and IV, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed portrays the previously untold story of Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice, and is due for release in 2008.
On hand were Project Lead Haden Blackman and Producer Julio Torres along with Secret Apprentice actor Sam Witwer. The panel featured the debut of a new Force Unleashed trailer, the first time actual game play footage has been revealed. The trailer can now be viewed on starwars.com.
Here are some edited highlights from the panel:
Blackman: “It really started with identifying the time period. We presented a ton of concepts to George and identified the time period between Episodes III and IV for this game and the next chapter in the Star Wars saga. We felt like the Star Wars saga is ultimately about Vader and his art, so we needed a time period that had Vader in it.
We brainstormed what stories we wanted to tell and at the same time focused on what we might want the game play looks to be. And we hit on this idea of the Force Unleashed which takes some inspiration from the Genndy cartoons and some comic book stuff as well. We really wanted to blow the Force out of proportion, really amp it up in order to serve game play.”
Torres: “Because this is being treated like a movie, the next Star Wars chapter, a lot of our inspiration comes from the original trilogy and Episode III. So a lot of the music and sound effects that we’re using for this game come from that particular content. Because it’s a new story, it’s going to require brand new music. We have original music that we’re going to compose to bridge the connection between Episodes III and IV. Just like John Williams, we’re really leveraging the concept of what Wagner did, which was to write themes for characters. I think the story melded together with the music is going to create an immersive experience very much like a Star Wars movie.”
Witwer: “It’s not just about amazing visuals and Force powers – it all really makes sense within the Star Wars saga. As a matter of fact, once you put the apprentice into Star Wars, if you take him out, the original Star Wars never takes place. This guy paves the way for Han and Leia and Luke to do their thing. This guy makes some huge impacts and changes in the Star Wars universe — this really is the next chapter of Star Wars.”
Blackman: “One of the things that’s exciting about this game is that you get to see how the galaxy has suffered or evolved under the influence of the Empire. So when you go to Kashyyyk at one point, it will look very different from the Kashyyyk that you might recognize from Episode III because the Empire’s taken over.
“George has allowed us to put some twists and some revelations in the game’s story that will really change your perception of Episode’s IV, V, and VI. You’ll have greater insight into both Vader and the Emperor and some of the things they’re plotting. George gave us a huge amount of feedback on what type of master Vader would be, what types of schemes he has cooking, and what types of things he’s after which we were able to leverage into the story. So I really do feel this leads right into Episode IV.”
Witwer: “Darth Vader’s secret apprentice is this extremely powerful Force user. He’s been raised under these torturous circumstances with a father figure that is just nightmarish – this is sort of what would have happened to Luke Skywalker if Vader had ever gotten a hold of him. One of the concepts that we played with a lot is that he’s sort of a dark Luke Skywalker, a photo negative of Luke Skywalker. He’s not a Sith, but he’s been raised with Sith powers. Whereas a normal Jedi would be very conservative and respectful of the Force, this kid just runs around using it as much as he can.
“What’s interesting is, even though he’s an extremely deadly and competent warrior, underneath it all, he’s this wide-eyed scared kid. Vader pretty much raised this kid in fear and darkness so throughout the story as he meets Juno Eclipse, the Imperial pilot and love interest, he is sort of faced with his budding humanity. He’s eventually able to see his actions through the eyes of Juno which causes him some conflicts. He’s inherently a conflicted character from the very beginning.”
Blackman: “We don’t call him Darth Vader’s apprentice, we call him Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. We often get asked why the secret apprentice is fighting Imperials in the game footage if he’s Darth Vader’s apprentice – it’s because he’s a secret apprentice. Vader actually directs you as the secret apprentice to leave no witnesses behind. So there are times you’re in an area where stormtroopers are fighting whoever you’re after. If they spot you, you have to dispatch them since you’re not allowed to leave any witnesses. Vader is very firm about the fact that if you’re ever discovered, bad things are going to happen – the Emperor can’t know about you.”
Blackman: “In some of our earlier drafts of the story, we relied a lot on existing characters, and while Princess Leia does appear in the game, she had a slightly different role in some of the early drafts. George really encouraged us to create new characters and particularly a love interest for the Secret Apprentice. I think one of the things that’s been exciting about that character is that she is an equal to the apprentice. She’s not a Force-wielder, but in her world, she’s just as competent as he is in the kind of things she does. We wanted a little Han-Leia feel in terms of some of their banter but I feel what we ended up with is a very unique and new relationship for Star Wars.
Other New Characters
Blackman: “We’ve created a new Jedi general we’re really excited about – he’s not a warm-and-fuzzy Qui-Gon type Jedi but a militant, hardboiled Jedi general named Master Rahm Kota – kind of a Samurai-like Jedi. There’s a new Zabrak Jedi which is Darth Maul’s species but she’s female and has a brand new fighting style with these lightsaber tomfas that gives her a very quick, martial arts type of feel. Her name is Maris Brood.
“Aside from the apprentice, one of my favorite characters is named PROXY, who is the apprentice’s droid sidekick. We really focused on creating a droid who will hopefully provide a little bit of comedy in a totally different way than a C-3PO, although he’s sort of wide-eyed and innocent in some ways.
“Princess Leia, Bail Organa, and Shaak Ti are also in the game, and there’s a couple other characters who have some cameos that the fans will be able to spot [Lucas has confirmed that Shaak Ti's death scene in the Episode III DVD extras is not canon since it did not make final cut].
“These Jedi who have been left over are not really in the same mindset that you’re aware of because they’ve been hunted for years now and they’re not doing so well. Some of them aren’t thinking straight, in terms of using the Force or what being a Jedi means to them anymore. There’s a lot of interesting psychology there.”
The ILM Connection
Blackman: “One of the things we’re doing is collaborating very closely with Industrial Light & Magic on a number of techniques. One of the things we’re doing to enhance the performances and really tell the story is a lot of image capture and motion capture work. We’re using techniques that were pioneered for movies like Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 to capture Sam’s likeness and Nathalie’s [Cox] likeness and pick up nuances we’ve never been able to do in games before. So something like a small smirk or smile or twitch actually come through now…and convey the emotional intent of the scene.”
The Force Power in Force Unleashed
Blackman: “The first direction I gave to the team and concept artists was to take this building block power, this Force-push, and let’s re-envision it so it’s not just knocking someone over or sending them back two or three feet but it’s hitting them with the force of a cannonball. We really wanted to re-imagine the Force power, so you’ll have the Force-push and the Force-grip (telekinesis) and Force lighting but they’ll all be kind of unleashed and over the top. On top of that we’re creating new Force powers that we feel are logical extensions of the Force. The Force-repulse power creates a violent shockwave and radius around you that sends everybody flying. We have a number of combos – if I do a Force-push followed by lightning, it actually sends an auto-targeting ball of lightning that will explode on impact.”
Blackman: “We will have a multi-player component to the game. The game is all about kicking butt with the Force, and from Day 1 we knew that one of the most satisfying things to do is kick your friend’s butt with the Force so we wanted to make sure we delivered on that experience in multi-player. There will be an online component as well and it will support all the requirements of a system like Xbox LIVE.”
Force Unleashed Sequel?
Blackman: “All these characters are going into the continuity, they’ll all be canon, and they’re all part of the Star Wars galaxy. So I can imagine that there will be other follow-ups with those characters. We’re already starting to toss around ideas about the next storyline and how some of these characters can resurface and have major roles in a sequel.