Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Turns Out to Be a Dad Game

Games Features Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Turns Out to Be a Dad Game

Major spoilers for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor incoming, especially its ending and final twist

The last thing I expected from Star Wars Jedi: Survivor was for it to turn around and reveal itself to ultimately be a game about fatherhood and the lengths a dad might go to in order to protect their family. And yet, much like The Last of Us, God of War, and Heavy Rain, all blockbuster titles that deal in similar themes and moral ambiguities, it does. And it really is a shame because I wish that in tackling that, Jedi: Survivor committed to having something new to say; Anything really to bring another dimension to the otherwise well worn and tumultuous territory of gaming’s many fathers. But it doesn’t and instead it retreads ground that undermines much of the promise the game showed until that point.

It’s unfair of me to suggest that this is all Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is about. It begins as one person struggles against an institution much larger than themself, and their desperation at the thought that their sacrifices aren’t making a difference. At times it even, given the game’s name, interrogates the consequences of surviving and what one does with the guilt of feeling like you’ve failed people relying on you. Smartly, the game devotes a lot of its time to reinterpreting what it means to survive and, more radically, fight. I love these parts of Jedi: Survivor and those journeys the characters begin embarking on as they seek to make Tanalorr, a mostly untouched and hidden planet, a new home away from the series eponymous wars. Away from Darth Vader and the Sith. And as Cal nurtures relationships, like his romance with Merrin, even away from the Jedi. Such a striking direction for this story felt like the kind of thing I’ve pleaded a long time for from Star Wars, a series that accidentally became the story of a single incredibly disruptive bloodline told ad nauseam. But like one of Star Wars countless Force ghosts, the past has a way of haunting Jedi: Survivor that drags it from those lofty heights it sets out for.

Bode Akuna, an uneasy ally you make at the game’s beginning (and who much of the game’s current fandom wants to romantically pair off with Cal), reveals his motivation for fighting the Empire early: his daughter Kata. After losing Kata’s mother, her safety becomes paramount to Bode, who has hidden her away while he helps Cal in his battles against the Empire and Dagan Gera, a High Republic Jedi who’s hundreds of years displaced from his time and mad about it, among other things. Everyone has their reasons for doing the things they do, but for me, the mention of being a father immediately sent up a red flag. It didn’t help that Bode fit neatly into the archetype of the spacefaring rogue, the kind of character that Star Wars loves to use to introduce ambiguities. It all comes together to make his eventual betrayal less of a surprise and more of an all-too-expected beat that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor almost feels compelled to hit.

Just as Bode betrays the group, some of Jedi: Survivor‘s gears come to a screeching halt. The Hidden Path, an underground network that sheltered refugees of the Great Jedi Purge and the Sith Inquisitorius, has its central base outed by Bode to the Empire, at which point they raze it to the ground. This, in itself, is an exciting turn of events save for Cere, a beloved character from Fallen Order who has opted out of the fight in favor of rebuilding the Path and its archives, being unceremoniously defeated and killed in battle by Darth Vader, who haphazardly materializes out of nowhere as a boss battle before promptly disappearing from the game again. Vader’s inclusion in Fallen Order at least felt appropriately climactic at the very end of that story, whereas his appearance in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor felt like the game reminding the audience that this is a Star Wars experience and thus needs to check boxes. Cal, whose goals seemed logistically unclear rather than ethically, is backed into a corner by a contrived moral quandary that begins rearing its head close to the game’s conclusion in order to complicate his character. The quandary isn’t a particularly novel one either, as it’s the de facto crisis Star Wars forces on most of its protagonists from Anakin Skywalker to Rey. In short, the game starts slipping into Star Wars shit that muddies the strides Jedi: Survivor was making that felt distinct from the monolith series. Much like Jedi: Survivor can’t seemingly help but fall back on these tenets (or restraints, depending on how you view it), so too does Bode’s betrayal feel like the game slipping into familiar and worn territory. Why? Because Bode becomes a videogame dad.

The “genre” of dad games has been lampooned for years now for their sometimes one-note explorations of an otherwise nuanced stage of life and how they’ve flattened design choices and considerations. While I won’t sit here and admonish the games entirely, as I haven’t played them all, the criticism of the angle, often centering the paternal figure and the destructive lengths they’d go to in order to protect their family, does feel like a valid one. Years of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention millions in resources have been devoted to story after story attempting to rationalize the violence that men feel compelled to perform out of love. It feels like a failure of the institution that it struggles still to imagine many other ways to broach the subject on the grandest stage afforded to storytellers in this field. There’s got to be better ways to explore the depths of Star Wars’ world and characters and there’s got to be other ways to tell stories about fathers in games that stop relying on these templates like a crutch that sparingly delivers a meaningful interrogation. Regrettably, that doesn’t begin with Bode, who fails to break the mold, becoming another in a long line of gaming (and Star Wars) destructive parents.

In his final moments, Bode really seals his fate. He steals Tanalorr away from anyone who could turn it into a sanctuary or bastion in order to hide himself and his daughter for good. In doing so, he does what so many of gaming’s fathers do, and transforms his love of his daughter into justification to violently condemn everyone around him. At the start of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor‘s final act he destroys the archive Cere consciously stepped back from the war to rebuild and is the reason Darth Vader appears and kills her. In his pitched final battle against Cal and Merrin, he nearly harms his own daughter due to his own short-sightedness and rage. And in his death, he incidentally passes the baton onto Cal, who becomes Kata’s new guardian as he begins to battle his own dark side. Sound familiar?

The only assurance this gives me is that we’ll be right back here before long. And I hope when we get there, that there’s more for Cal than just being another line in a self-fulfilling prophecy in this medium and franchise.


Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.

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