When Star Wars: The Force Unleashed hit stores in the fall of 2008, it quickly became the most popular and fastest selling Star Wars game ever created, not to mention the biggest hit to come out of LucasArts’ internal studio in its more-than-30-year history. In addition to experiencing the most visceral Jedi action-adventure game ever to hit consoles (thanks to Force powers which had never been seen before), the world was introduced to Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Starkiller—the unlikely hero who would ultimately redeem himself and become the spark to ignite the flames of Rebellion in a galaxy so desperately in need of a hero.
Two years on and audiences will once again meet Starkiller as LucasArts releases the highly anticipated sequel, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. However, instead of redemption, the apprentice will embark on a journey that will not only attempt to reunite him with his true love, Juno Eclipse, but also lead him to discover just who he really is. In The Force Unleashed II, Starkiller is once again the pawn of Darth Vader—but instead of training him to be a ruthless assassin, Vader is attempting to clone his former apprentice to create the ultimate Sith warrior. The maddening dilemma that Starkiller faces is that he doesn’t know whether or not he’s the man he thinks he is.
Star Wars Insider met Haden Blackman, the Executive Producer and writer for The Force Unleashed and The Force Unleashed II, and actor Sam Witwer, the face and voice of Starkiller, to discover where the apprentice is headed next.
Star Wars Insider: What makes The Force Unleashed II more unleashed?
Haden Blackman: From a gameplay standpoint, we’ve added another lightsaber and made the combo system (the way a character’s moves are linked together) more robust. We’ve also added a new mode, Force Fury, that enables the player to dial up their Force powers to 11. To top it off we’ve added some new, over-the-top powers, including a very combat-useful version of the Jedi mind trick. Going back to the lightsaber, we’re also trying to make it behave more like a real lightsaber would. We’re also focusing on very big, epic battles.
What was the creative process behind getting The Force Unleashed II off the ground?
HB: It took us a little while to decide exactly when we were going to do The Force Unleashed II. In order to get it started, we knew we had to bring back the apprentice. The one thing I would ask the team early in development was, “What action figures do I have to play with, what set pieces and locations do I have at my disposal?” and then build a story around that. In The Force Unleashed it was the opposite. Instead of going with a known quantity like the apprentice and telling a story about him, we had to create the story first, and then come up with the main character after.
Where the first game was really about creating that world, the sequel is more about refining what we already have and developing a story from there. From the start, everything radiated from the apprentice.
How has Starkiller changed between the games?
Sam Witwer: In the first game Starkiller felt he knew his purpose, but in reality he was really a confused person. In the sequel he’s even more confused, which accounts for his ragged emotional state. In the original game, Starkiller starts out on a mission and approaches it with a great deal of confidence until he gets betrayed. This time around, we never see him on firm footing. Certainly he is as lethal a combatant as he ever was—even more so—but in terms of being on an emotional steady ground, no. The whole point of this story is him trying to find that emotional steady ground. He’s trying to find something that he thinks will bring him some peace.
Why come back to the apprentice? What is it about Starkiller that you like as a writer and a gamemaker?
HB: There were two reasons. From a creative standpoint, we always saw The Force Unleashed just as much a story about Vader as it was about Starkiller. When we talked about doing a sequel and continuing it as a part of Vader’s story, we thought bringing back Starkiller in an interesting way would provide us with a really good foil for Vader. It would allow us to learn more about Vader and how he will try the same thing over and over again until it actually works—which may be the definition of insanity.
The practical and production side of me wanted to come back to the apprentice because he was a known quantity. We know how long it takes to animate him, we know how he moves and fights. It’s much easier in some respects than creating a brand new character from scratch.
What is it about the apprentice that you like as an actor?
SW: It’s really great to play a Star Wars protagonist. It’s damn fun! Starkiller is very clear on what his problems are and where, ultimately, his loyalties lie. His biggest problem is his identity and where he comes from.
What I like about him is he’s a badass with a lightsaber. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, so just swimming around in that galaxy and playing this part is great. The thing I like the most is the little piece of Luke Skywalker that’s inside him. Some might think it’s the rogue-ish, Han Solo-ness of the character. But for me it’s finding those moments of innocence. The story is so dark that it was our job to look for the bright spots. And that was what Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker was all about. You find as many moments where you can be Luke Skywalker and try to bring those out. And that’s what makes him a compelling protagonist. If Starkiller was just a bad guy with a buzz cut looking for trouble, his character would get pretty boring. There are a lot of places where the apprentice can go. This version of Starkiller is shrouded in mystery. He is an extremely powerful and primal Force-user.
Why is Starkiller so valuable to Vader?
HB: From a continuity standpoint one answer is that there just aren’t a lot of Force users out there. Vader and the Emperor have wiped out most of them, so it would be hard for Vader to go find an ex-Jedi or a Jedi-in-hiding and convert them to being his apprentice. If Vader finds another newborn you’re talking another 18 years before that character is ready. Vader put all his eggs in one basket originally with Starkiller; he stole him away from Kashyyyk and trained him for 14 years or so. That’s a lot of investment. To have that all go away was something that Vader wrestled with. To bring back Starkiller in some capacity, I think, was a shortcut for Vader to get an apprentice again. We’re being vague about Vader’s motives—is he trying to overthrow the Emperor, is he trying to get another agent to continue to hunt down the Rebels. Who knows? We’re leaving some of that up to interpretation.
How do you view Starkiller and Vader’s relationship?
SW: Starkiller is different this time around, due to his identity crisis—how different is up to the player’s interpretation. Having said that, he is still very terrified of Vader, but he certainly doesn’t behave like he did in the original game; he is more defiant than before.
As for Vader, we get to see him before his ultimate rise to power. At this point in his career Vader is still getting used to his power and influence. He isn’t the Vader we see in The Empire Strikes Back; he isn’t as cold and calculating. The apprentice is able to test his patience, and at times get to him. Vader is taken out of his comfort zone. We expose elements of Vader’s character that you haven’t seen before.
Right from the beginning the apprentice struggles with an identity crisis—is he really who Vader says he is, or is he living a lie? Why is Juno such an integral part of him discovering who he really is?
SW: She helped solidify his identity, right before his one-man assault on the Death Star. She was his anchor-point. Her feelings for him made his sacrifice make sense to him. Now imagine putting yourself in his shoes and losing your identity. Suddenly, what are you going to do? What are you going to do to make yourself feel whole again, like yourself again? For the apprentice, it means taking himself back to a place where he feels surer of himself. Not necessarily back to the Death Star, but to that moment before his attack, to that moment with Juno, where she essentially opened up her heart to him and gave him that kiss. Juno probably didn’t realize that kiss would have such a profound impact on Starkiller. But this is a guy that previously had no experience in love. There is a lot a room for interpretation as to why the apprentice feels the way he does, and what is influencing his actions. My personal one is that he is totally lost. The only thread that he has to follow is Juno, this woman he has feelings for—that’s it. He hopes that if he can get near her again, answers will come. On a primal level, he feels awful in this maelstrom of uncertainty. He wants to move out of that and into a place where he feels more comfort, which is being with her.
Do you think Juno feels equally as strong toward the apprentice?
HB: I think so. It’s hard to develop these kinds of interactions in video games, where you’re not in the character’s head and having that monologue. She’s on the run just as much as Starkiller after they’re betrayed by Vader the first time. They’re kindred spirits in that sense. They were both dedicated to the Empire and to serving Vader, and then when Vader betrays both of them she is inspired by Starkiller to join the Rebel Alliance. That’s how we see her—she’s now a dedicated Rebel officer. Juno was inspired by Starkiller’s sacrifice to become a Rebel, and she makes sure that his memory is kept alive by serving the Alliance. Juno cares deeply about the apprentice. They went through hell together.
Why do you think there is such a strong connection between Starkiller and Juno? What is it about her that affects him so greatly?
SW: This is a man who, until his first encounter with Juno, had never seen—much less been around—a beautiful woman before. You can imagine he would get a little bit swept up by that, especially since Juno has such admirable traits. And make no mistake, she is quite admirable, and we see a little bit of that in the new game. Juno is someone worth having feelings for. In The Force Unleashed, it didn’t really require much more than infatuation to drive this character. The infatuation that the apprentice has for Juno is a profound thing. He’s never experienced a relationship like this before. I mean, this is a guy whose best “friend” up until meeting Juno was a droid that tried to kill him on an almost daily basis—that’s his idea of what friendship is. You can imagine that romantic feelings of any kind would be something that this incredibly powerful warrior has no defense for. None. This story is not one of revenge and redemption—it’s one of identity and devotion.
Category: Interviews | Posted on: 6 August 2010