The edge of the galaxy has found a home in the heart of Orange County. If you want to visit Star Wars on Earth you should head to Anaheim, and specifically the 14 acres of Disneyland devoted to Batuu. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the theme park expansion devoted to Disney’s space opera epic, brings George Lucas’s universe into our real world, making tangible what we could once only observe on screen or in books or games. It might not be the Star Wars locations you know and love, but Galaxy’s Edge is unmistakably Star Wars, uniting characters and concepts we’ve seen before with a new setting and story. That mix of the old and new can also be found in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which made Anaheim the perfect place to hold a preview event for Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming Star Wars game.
Fallen Order immediately felt familiar when I dived into it for the first time in a hotel conference room. Star Wars is more than its characters or the sand dunes of Tatooine: it’s a visual and aural language more distinct than almost any other in entertainment today. Fallen Order has the look and sound of Star Wars, the buzz and din of its alien-filled planets, and the architectural aesthetic that’s simultaneously futuristic and ramshackle and worn-down. This makes an impression before any character says a word, before any light sabers are illuminated. You’ll know what universe you’re in, even if you have no idea what part of it you’re currently visiting.
I played about two hours of the game during the event. It wasn’t a vertical slice or a section pulled out for the demo, Respawn’s representatives told us; the entire game was open to us, with the only limitation being the amount of time we had to explore it. Also we didn’t start from the beginning—they had us primed and ready to pick it up at an undisclosed point somewhere after the start of the game. Our character, Cal Kestis, a red-haired Padawan who survived the slaughter of the Jedi shown in Revenge of the Sith, had already unlocked a handful of abilities on the game’s skill tree, and was already on the run from an empire who had discovered his secret. When I loaded the game up Kestis stood in front of the ship he’s found himself traveling aboard, at the end of a series of missions on one planet and ready to travel to the next to keep the story going.
Before I could get Kestis to that next goal, I had him talk to his fellow crew members. Cere Junda was a former Jedi who closed herself off to the force after the massacre of her order. She seems cautious in becoming a mentor to the younger Kestis, no longer able to share his Force abilities but capable of advising him on how to think and act. Greez Dritus, a four-armed alien pilot (not to be confused with Rio Durant, the four-armed alien pilot from the movie Solo), seems to be there strictly for comic relief. After talking to both I approached the holographic map at the center of the ship, and choice what planet to head to next. This felt a bit like a Mass Effect game, and although there is an optimal order to tackle planets, Respawn confirmed that I could go to any of the planets currently available to me, including one meant to be visited later after Kestis had learned several new skills. This freedom and flexibility is one of the game’s core tenets, I soon learned.
Watch our video preview of Fallen Order:
I picked the planet that Cere and Greez said we should go to. It was a lush, green world with an ancient town and temple that seemed entirely abandoned except for a large number of stormtroopers. The bulk of my time with the game was spent exploring this planet while using Cal’s lightsaber and Force powers to cut his way through the Empire’s goons. As a 3D action game (a first for Respawn, best known for the first-person Titanfall series), it had shades of the Uncharted and Tomb Raider series. I guided Kestis through these old ruins, with copious platforming along the way, and taking out small squads of enemies whenever I encountered them. The central part of the temple was one large puzzle involving weight-sensitive plates, large boulders, and wind tunnels that were the only way to move those boulders around. If it wasn’t for the Star Wars aesthetic and Kestis’s lightsaber and Jedi skills, it’d be easy to think this was an Uncharted spinoff.
I don’t want to give the impression that Fallen Order is simply a hodgepodge of elements from other games, but, well, games are an iterative medium. In addition to Uncharted and Tomb Raider, there were also strong echoes of Metroid and Dark Souls. Throughout the planet I’d encounter areas where Kestis could stop and meditate. These essentially acted like the bonfires of a Dark Souls game. I could spend Kestis’s experience points here, learning new Force powers on his skill tree, or just regenerate my health and save my game. Whenever Kestis used one of these meditation circles, whatever enemies he had defeated would return to life. Fallen Order didn’t have any of the more punitive aspects of a Souls game—Kestis doesn’t lose his inventory or experience points when he dies—but having to juggle a save and health refresh with the knowledge that all previous enemies will be alive again is straight from the Souls playbook.
The Metroid influence, meanwhile, is what makes me most excited for Fallen Order. As soon as I landed on this planet I’d find areas that I couldn’t gain access to. Later, when I unlocked a specific Force power, I was able to get into those spaces. It made backtracking not just crucial but also enjoyable, in the same way that traveling through Metroid’s familiar expanses in order to finally enter a place you could see but not explore hours earlier offers such a burst of satisfaction. It’s also a sensation that somewhat parallels a trip to Disneyland—you might not want to wait in line for 80 minutes to ride Splash Mountain, but four hours later, when your Fast Pass window opens up, you won’t mind walking from one side of the park back to the other to finally board that log flume with ease.
Exploration is a major part of Fallen Order, obviously, and so is combat. (Uh, just as obviously.) Fighting through the waves of stormtroopers was hardly a challenge for most of the demo—I’d block at the right moment and deflect blaster fire back at them, or tap a button two or three times to hack through them with my lightsaber. Eventually it grew more complicated, and considerably more deadly. Defense became as important as offense, with Kestis parrying the strikes of some enemies while dodging maneuvers that can’t be blocked. Eventually Kestis came face to face with Empire soldiers that could block and dodge almost as well as he can, at which point the fight takes on a strong dueling element. At the end of this particular planet I had to control Kestis in a battle with an AT-ST Walker; it was a moderately challenging boss fight that I was able to complete without dying, but that brought me close to that edge. (Thank Heaven for little droids, as Kestis’s robot buddy BD-1 was there to toss out health packs when needed.)
At the end of this battle I was on my way to a planet that’s home to a beloved Star Wars icon: Kashyyyk, the planet of the Wookiees, and home to Chewbacca. I didn’t meet Han Solo’s co-pilot himself, but I did catch a glimpse of Saw Gerrera, the rebel extremist that Forest Whitaker played in Rogue One. Almost as soon as I ran into Saw the preview event ended, leaving me to wonder what other recognizable Star Wars characters we might see throughout the rest of the game.
Later that night we ventured into Disneyland for a celebration at Oga’s Cantina, the best part of Galaxy’s Edge. It’s understandable to be cynical about Disney’s massive transmedia latticework of new Star Wars stories and expansions. Since buying the property from Lucasfilm Disney has cranked out so much Star Wars business across so many different disciplines that even the most passionate fans are probably overwhelmed by it all. Still, standing in Oga’s Cantina made it clear once again how powerful a well-made and smartly built Star Wars experience can be, over 40 years after we were first invited into this universe. Hopefully Fallen Order will live up to that tradition, and after what I played in California, there’s reason to think that might be possible.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is out on November 15.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.