There is something that ‘Star Wars’ has been doing well for a long time. And ‘The Lord of the Rings’ should learn from it

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‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are two beloved franchises among fantasy devotees, and the truth is that they have a lot in common. Both present stories that have lasted for decades and have impacted generations of fans. Both tell a story of confrontation between Good and Evil, each with its own codes and resources.but both are very aware that they are handling tropes that have their roots in mythologies and the collective subconscious.

From a more prosaic point of view, both stories are structured in trilogies, although at the time of Tolkien’s novels that format was not as commercialized as it is now. And in any case, both have enjoyed multiple ramifications in many different media, printed or not, audiovisual or not. In a way (again, a thousand nuances here) against the intentions of its original creators.

It is precisely this penultimate aspect, the ease with which they have been transferred to other media, that allows to compare both franchises from a different point of view, and trace a series of evolutions in their long stories. And above all, reflect on what new paths are open to both.

'Star Wars': where and in what order to see all the films of the saga

In a pixel far, far away…

If there are countless details that bring the two franchises closer in terms of narrative and the relationship of fans with them, there are many others that undoubtedly distance them. As products belonging to very different times, their commercial exploitation has also differed. Although in that sense, the importance of ‘Star Wars’ is essential in the industry: it is impossible to understand the phenomenon of merchandise and spin-offs without the success of the first 1977 film.

That’s why, practically from the beginning, ‘Star Wars’ has been linked to countless adaptations. The most popular in its early days, without a doubt, were the Marvel comics, which included adaptations of the first two films and lasted for 107 issues, as well as the numerous books that it has spawned, adapting the films or with new plots that mostly became part of the expanded universe that was later taken out of canon. And, of course, video games.

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StarWars (1983)

It can be said that video games as popular entertainment and ‘Star Wars’ and its first sequels were born almost at the same time. That is why, from the beginning, we have seen games adapting its rich universe. The eighties and early nineties were especially substantial in quality titles in that sense: the Atari arcades of 1983 and 1985 adapting the first two films even today continue to shine with their vector graphics, and the arcade that took ‘Return of the Jedi’ as a reference ‘ was also memorable.

In the nineties came a veritable explosion of masterpieces: from the trilogy ‘Super Star Wars‘, perhaps the best games in the history of the franchise, to dalliance with the genre shooter (‘Star Wars Dark Forces’) or, already at the turn of the decade, the two ‘Rogue Squadron’ and their stellar flight simulations or the ‘X-Wing’ saga (especially the second, ‘TIE Fighter’). We left many in the pipeline, but here you can start to see where we are going: the variety of genres and approaches to the franchise is the best testament to how deep the cinematic universe is created by George Lucas.

super star wars

Super Star Wars

And the thing continues in later decades, with the hardware gaining power and allowing absolutely diverse approaches and for all tastes: the overwhelming RPG world of ‘Knights of The Old Republic’, the endless fun of ‘LEGO Star Wars’, the Jedi action of ‘Jedi Knight’ and ‘Jedi Outcast’, the strategic shootings of ‘Republic Commando’ or the ‘Battlefront’ up to the most recent and also wonderful ‘Fallen Order’. A whole panoply of games (where there have also been bad and very bad ones, of course), but whose great virtue lies in its variety.

The Middle Earth version

And although as with ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has existed practically since the massification of video games, its transition to video games has been different. In the 1980s and 1990s, novels were a cult object for an incomparably smaller number of gamers., and the games, much more modest. Melbourne House, for example, released a few text adventures, most notably ‘The Hobbit’ and later, a real-time strategy game.

Hobbit

The Hobbit

In the 1990s, Interplay, in collaboration with Electronic Arts, would release a few role-playing games based on the first two books, but their limited acceptance prevented a third from being made. The differences with the games of the time based on ‘Star Wars’ are abysmal not only in the resources used, but also in an even more frontal detail: while visually all the ‘Star Wars’ games, regardless of the genre they were, obeyed to a common aesthetic provided by the movies, Tolkien’s books were more open to interpretation in many respects.

Also, with the arrival of Peter Jackson’s films since 2001, a very special situation arose: EA had the rights to the Peter Jackson movies, while Vivendi had the rights to the books., something unthinkable with a franchise driven with an iron hand like ‘Star Wars’. Since 2005, EA unified the rights, with adventure games based on the film trilogy, which were added to previous ones from the other great genre that the franchise has cultivated, strategy.

Since then we have been seeing other games already in the shadow of Jackson’s films, but also with the books as a reference: from the massive online role of ‘The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar’ to the war action of ‘The Lord of the Rings: Conquest’ going through, of course, the LEGO raids or the turn towards more violent action like ‘War in the North’ or the notable ‘Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor’ or ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War,’ both non-canon. Something also unthinkable in a franchise tightly controlled by its owners, like ‘Star Wars’.

What does ‘The Lord of the Rings’ have to learn?

Details aside (the little aesthetic unity of LOTR before the arrival of the Peter Jackson movies, that LOTR didn’t have massive games until the 2000s), there is a main feature that makes games based on both franchises differ. The ‘Star Wars’ games have managed to scratch better in the corners of their franchise to give rise to more varied games… while still being ‘Star Wars’ titles.

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Knights of the Old Republic

Perhaps due to the appearance, from very early on, of derivative products, such as Marvel comics, which officially expanded, but totally outside the control of George Lucas, the original universe, ‘Star Wars’ got used to growing almost uncontrolled The catalog of races, planets, historical facts but that fit into the central story, everything seemed virtually infinite, and the games pulled from there to enrich their games, although they continued to adapt specific films.

A ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ set in Middle-earth, for example, would be very possible considering the breadth and richness of Tolkien’s novels, and yet it is a goal that has not been achieved ( despite interesting experiments in terms of the breadth of the world, such as ‘The Lord Of The Rings Online’, which for obvious reasons did not reach the dramatic complexity of the ‘Star Wars’ game). The reason is that we continue to identify ‘The Lord of the Rings’ with the battles and the action, but not with three-dimensional characters they can grow up in a complex world, as BioWare gave birth to.

The "without God" from the expanded universe of 'Star Wars' that Disney uploaded

A clear example in this sense: when they wanted to continue exploiting Peter Jackson’s films, but the official adaptations of the films had already been released, they opted for ‘Aragorn’s Quest’, which simply told the usual story from the point of view of another character. It is a matter, perhaps, of a lack of broad-mindedness.

‘The Lord of the rings’ shouldn’t settle for a series of hack ‘n slash that remain on the surface of books and movies. Although at the moment there is nothing in the offing (beyond the inevitable and predictable mobile title), perhaps the new Prime Video series, ‘The Rings of Power’, will be a good excuse to try to build the game that the saga deserves .

‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are two beloved franchises among fantasy devotees, and the truth is that…

‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are two beloved franchises among fantasy devotees, and the truth is that…

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