Each of the original six Star Wars movies received at least one tie-in video game adapting its story. We could talk for hours about the exhausting sand monsters of Super Star Wars or the amazing Jedi Temple purge scenes that we deserved to see in the film from the Revenge of the Sith action-adventure game. Instead, let’s go back to 1999’s The Phantom Menace. In the film, Qui-Gon and company seem to almost immediately arrive at Watto’s junk shop in the town of Mos Espa on Tatooine, and why shouldn’t they? The pace of the movie demands it.
The video game burns much more slowly, though, sort of like crack cocaine. After the landing at Mos Espa, the Jedi and his retinue are ambushed by Tusken Raiders. After this brief skirmish, Qui-Gon splits off from the group and goes on an unending series of fetch quests in his pursuit of a new hyperdrive, because no one seems quite sure where Watto might be found, even though literally everyone seems to be familiar with his inventory, slaves, and status as a shop owner. After asking around about Watto, Qui-Gon learns that a boy named Anakin works for him and is his best “in” with the junk dealer, so he begins asking around about where he can find the young boy, which inexplicably raises no eyebrows.
This leads him to the fortified apartment of Captain Neg, a slaver. The mother of an Ithorian Hammerhead boy named Tomo begs Qui-Gon to free her son from Neg’s captivity, which he is more than willing to do by extreme force despite refusing to do the same for Anakin in the film because she asked nicely or something, I don’t know. Qui-Gon happily interferes in a home invasion and mind-tricks several locals into telling him about Anakin against their will before finally finding the boy in the slave quarters. A detour through Watto’s jump-puzzle junkyard has the pair avoiding a killer zamboni driven by the sausage droid from Galaxy’s Edge, and then we finally arrive at the shop. And then we’re back to trading and fetch quests until the end of the level, when it’s time for the Podrace.
All of this sounds completely insane, but is it psychopathic? No. But it easily can be.
Unlike all other non-LEGO adaptations from Star Wars film to game, The Phantom Menace is relatively non-linear, incredibly so for its time, and no mission better showcases this than the first Mos Espa one. Upon arriving in town, the only thing stopping Qui-Gon Jinn of all people from throwing six decades of devotion to the light side of the Force to the desert winds and massacring the townspeople is your own inhibition. Cries of, “It’s the killer!” and, “Who ya gonna murder next, mister?” fill the arid air as the Jedi Master brings his blade (or blaster rifle or thermal detonator) to bear against ruffian, slave, and weird minotaur axe-wielder alike.
The wanton cruelty displayed by arguably the noblest Jedi in the saga here eclipses even that of the most ruthless dark side play through of Knights of the Old Republic, and no one except the core protagonists is spared. Killing Jar Jar, Anakin, or Padmé will end the level, but Kitster? Mawhonic? Teemto Pagalies? The fringes of the first Star Wars prequel’s bizarre cast of minor characters can be mown down like the grasslands of Naboo.
I think the most interesting factor is how it affects the rest of the game. Simply put, it doesn’t. Killing even characters essential to finding Watto, and therefore, the parts you need from him, results only in them dropping said parts as they scream in agony and die. You may then proceed to the Podrace, Coruscant, and the rest of the film’s story, and no one mentions what you did. There is a chance that Anakin will refuse to speak to you if he witnesses the massacre, but this doesn’t seem to happen every time.
The Phantom Menace is a story about how we are all tied together cosmically, and our decisions regarding how we treat others, no matter how different they may seem, will have ramifications for our own future and that of those we care about. And yet here, without retribution, you can decimate the population of a remote desert outpost all in the name of fixing your ship without talking to anyone so you can be on your way. And no one ever speaks of it again. As a road trip enthusiast with social anxiety, I can relate to this desire, but come on. I don’t think any Star Wars story has ever so thoroughly lost touch with its core themes, but man, it was fun.