May the Force Be With You: Revisiting the Super Star Wars Trilogy

Rod hopes he’s strong with the Force as he revisits a trio of challenging games from a galaxy far, far away…

The Super Star Wars Trilogy on the Super Nintendo remains three of the best games in the long-running franchise’s history, and some of the best games for the system in general. They contain a mixture of side-scrolling, third-person and first-person levels. The games also make use of the Mode 7 graphics capabilities that came with the console. Each one follows their respective movies as closely as possible, albeit with changes here and there for the purposes of being a video game. Before I go into each individually, let’s look at what they all have in common.

Before you start each level, you will see a 16-bit version of a scene from the movie, some with certain images that are looped animations. Text will scroll below it to explain what is going on or to show a character’s dialogue. A nice little touch is that you can move the text up and down to read at your own pace. The opening crawls are included, and they are realised pretty well with the SNES graphics. There are even screen fades and wipes like those used in the actual movies after you complete a level. The games even use some soundbytes from the movies, too. It all adds to the experience of a Star Wars movie being translated into interactive form.

A Star Wars game wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include the music composed by the great John Williams. The score in all three games is great, really making you feel like you’re playing a Star Wars adventure, but they also give you the same emotional reaction you have when hearing them in the movies. Super Return of the Jedi even features a rendition of the original music that played at the end of the flick when the Rebellion is celebrating the destruction of the Second Death Star and the death of the Emperor. The SNES sound chip does a wonderful job with the music it uses from the scores of the films. The fact I still got chills from hearing these compositions, even in this form, is a testament to the music itself, but also to the quality they have in these games.

There are three difficulty levels to choose from: Easy, Brave and Jedi. The higher the difficulty, the fewer lives you will have, and your life bar will start off smaller, too, which is represented as a lightsabre. You can extend this bar by picking up lightsabre icons which enemies will drop at random when defeated. The only thing is, you won’t keep the health bar extensions when you begin a new level or when you die. You replenish your health by collecting hearts, and small hearts give you a tiny bit of health, whereas large hearts will do the opposite. Collecting shields will allow you to be impervious to damage for a short amount of time.

Projectiles and flying debris from destroying certain enemies will cause you to get knocked back a tiny bit if hit, and while this can cause problems in some levels, it’s not really a major issue. One of the stages where this is most annoying, though, is in Super Star Wars when you’re inside the Sandcrawler and reach the end of level boss, because there are lava pits below, and if you fall into them, it’s instant death. That means you lose your upgraded blaster and revert back to a regular one, which in turn makes it more difficult because where you restart from doesn’t have any blaster upgrades to collect. Also, make sure you don’t fall into the lava once you’ve defeated the boss, because you still have to jump over to R2-D2 in order to finish the level. Watch out for those jumping fire blasts as well, as you can also be pushed forward when hit from behind, too!

As a way to boost your score, when an enemy drops a Darth Vader helmet icon, they will increase the amount of points you earn per kill by two, and each time you collect one within a short amount of time of each other, it adds another amount, and the highest you can go is x8. Enemies will also drop thermal detonators from time to time which will only be available to use for a few seconds after collecting it, and it can destroy every single enemy on the screen in one hit. There are hidden areas in some of the levels in these games, where you can find extra lives, blaster upgrades, and hearts for health replenishment, as well as other items to make use of. You will uncover a lot of the hidden items in these areas if you shoot at wherever they are hiding.

As for the long-range weapons in each game, the blaster can be upgraded to more powerful versions, of which there are five: Regular, Fireball, Heatseeker, Ion Blast, and Plasma. However, if you die, whatever version you possess will be lost and you will revert to the regular blaster again. But one good thing is that Han Solo’s standard blaster is a fireball one instead of a regular. Remember in Star Wars when Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia are in the trash compactor, and Han fires his blaster which ricochets off the walls? Well, in the games, the regular blaster bounces off walls, too, as well as the ion blast upgrade, and this can come in handy when you want to keep your distance from an enemy located in a position that requires you to hit them at an angle. You can fire in seven directions whilst standing or crouching.

If you hold the R shoulder button, the screen will rise slightly to give you a better view of what is above, and holding the L shoulder button will take the screen slightly down. This does come in handy in many levels, because there are moments where you need to reach a platform but can’t see it in plain view. In some instances, you will just have to take a leap of faith to reach a platform because even using L or R won’t move the screen enough to see them.

One more thing I appreciate is that, when you finish each game, there is a different background image that appears as the text scrolls. In the credits of Super Star Wars, it is Vader’s face that gradually appears. In Super Empire Strikes Back, it is Yoda’s face. And in Super Return of the Jedi, it is the Emperor’s mug that is slowly revealed.

Now let’s delve into each game individually to see what differences they have between them, as well as other aspects related to each game.

Super Star Wars

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”

Super Star Wars begins with the player taking control of Luke Skywalker. At the beginning, he only has his blaster and doesn’t attain a lightsabre until he finds Obi-Wan Kenobi a few levels later. Chewbacca becomes playable when you reach the Cantina, and Han Solo becomes playable after you complete the Cantina level. Each character controls very much the same, with all three being able to jump, perform a higher jump (Chewie jumps a little higher since he has a height advantage), a sliding move (Han does a sideways commando roll), and fire their blasters, or a Bowcaster rifle in the case of Chewie. Amusingly to me, Han looks like he’s hitting himself in the head with his blaster when he fires upwards, and when he does his somersault jump, he looks like a small spaceship doing a barrel-roll.

The main beats of the film are included, such as Luke and Obi-Wan meeting Han and Chewie in the Cantina at Mos Eisley, entering the Death Star to deactivate the tractor beam (in a way very different to the movie), and flying through the trenches of the Death Star in the Battle of Yavin, to name a few. But liberties have definitely been taken with certain things. For example, at the end of the first level set on Tatooine, you actually fight the Sarlaac Pit from Return of the Jedi.

In the third-person Landspeeder levels, you will have to kill a certain number of Jawas who come at you on tiny Speeder-like vehicles of their own. Your Landspeeder is equipped with jets that allow you to hover above the ground, and you can hover all the way up to the top of the screen. You have a bar that indicates how much fuel you have, but you can pick up more by destroying Jawas, and they also drop hearts to replenish any lost health. Womprats are a secondary enemy you will encounter. There are also moisture vaporator towers as obstacles to avoid hitting. The only annoying thing is that there are pits on the ground that, if you get caught in them, will drain all your health, so you still have to be careful. The final level, of course, is the attack on the Death Star, where Luke pilots his X-Wing through the trench to get to the exhaust port and fire off the torpedoes that lead to the core of the space station. This is played in the first-person view.

Now, once you get your lightsabre you might think, “Oh, this is so cool! I’m going to destroy everything in my path easily!” But since Luke isn’t experienced with using it yet in the movie, this is reflected in this game by the way Luke is animated whilst using it. It is a powerful weapon that can damage an enemy more than your blaster, however, it means you have to get in close, and with certain enemies that means you’re going to lose a lot more health when not standing in front of it and firing at a distance. I would advise using it sparingly, mainly for bosses that you are able to get up close and personal with, and as long as you have full health at your disposal.

There is a time limit in each level and enemies will drop time extensions helpfully. Super Star Wars is the only game in the trilogy that has a time limit, though. It’s neither here nor there in this game, and you’ll only run out of time if you avoid the time limit extensions or just mess around on purpose.

There are some weak points about this game, though, that don’t necessarily make it terrible, but can be frustrating, especially since they are rectified in the next two titles. One of these is the fact you can’t run and shoot at the same time, which means you will have to stand still and then aim where you want to fire. The second is that there’s no save or password feature, and this means you will have to complete the game in one sitting, unless you’re willing to pause the game and leave it that way until you wish to continue playing.

Super Empire Strikes Back

“It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy. Evading the dreaded Imperial Starfleet, a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker has established a new secret base on the remote ice world of Hoth. The evil lord Darth Vader, obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space….”

After playing Super Star Wars, you will notice that in Super Empire Strikes Back there are a few changes. The first is that you have a password feature which really helps, as this game is longer than Super Star Wars. Like the latter, the characters you can play as are Luke, Han and Chewbacca. But just as in the previous game, you can’t choose to play as Han or Chewie from the beginning, and it will be a few levels into the game before you can.

You will also notice once you begin that Luke is much better now with his lightsabre, which in turn means said gameplay is better for the player. He can actually block now, too! The animation of using the lightsabre has been greatly improved as well. Han now has a secondary weapon aside from his blaster, which are bombs that actually look like the old World War II grenades the Germans used. Unfortunately, though, when you complete a level as Solo, the amount of grenades you collected reverts back to zero. Chewbacca has a cool spin attack he can utilise, which uses up energy but refills automatically when you stop using it. A slight change to Chewie’s jump is that, instead of just leaping higher when you double-jump, he too will now do a somersault like Luke and Han.

The controls are basically the same except they changed the button you press in order to switch between Luke’s lightsabre and his blaster. Icons you collect are pretty much the same, except this time you can collect Force Upgrades to replenish your Force bar once you reach the Dagobah level and have received these Force Powers: Elevation, Mind Control, Slowdown, Sabre Control, Sabre Deflect, Invisible, Heal, and Freeze.

The third-person view returns for certain levels in this, too, like one of the Battle of Hoth stages when you’re fighting in your Snowspeeder. There’s a side-scrolling level where you get into a Snowspeeder, too. You even get to ride on a Tauntaun, which you can dismount if you wish. It is given a much larger health bar than your characters ever get at the start of a level. Later in the game, you will visit Cloud City on Bespin, and this is a level where you are Luke flying in his X-Wing and is attacked by Cloud Cars, which is in third-person. First-person view is back as well, in the asteroid field stage which Han must get through in the Milennium Falcon.

One of the highlights is the Battle of Hoth where you fly in the Snowspeeder in third-person. You will need to destroy the Snowtroopers flying towards you on their Speederbikes, Imperial Probe Droids, AT-ST’s, and last but not least, the AT-AT’s, which, like in the movie, and in the Shadows of the Empire N64 game, you can use the tow cable to circle around and tie-up their legs. You also go inside the AT-AT which, in the movie, is destroyed by Luke throwing a thermal detonator into it, whereas in this game, it’s another action-packed level. Another thing not in the movie is Luke riding on a Speederbike and blasting invading Imperial Forces on his way out to his Snowspeeder. But it’s elements like these which add to the experience of the arcade-style gameplay.

At the end, Luke will face Darth Vader in a duel just like in the movie. The difference, though, is that when Darth Vader uses the Force to throw things at you, Luke will be able to block more effectively! The other tactics Vader uses are floating towards you to attack, floating over you, and advancing towards you whilst swinging his lightsabre. What I really like is that, when you first face Vader, you hear a soundbyte of him saying, “The Force is with you, young Skywalker,” and “Most impressive!” when you defeat him in the mini-duels before the final fight.

Super Return of the Jedi

“Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…”

Since this is the third game in the trilogy, the developers really got to a point where this was the most polished of the three. This time around, you actually know when you’re approaching a checkpoint in order to not have to start from the beginning. If you come across R2-D2 and “collect” him, that acts as your checkpoint. As for new items in this game, you can find an offensive shield that circles around you and can harm enemies that attack. There are also speed boosts that, for a short time, allow you to run really fast. Be careful that you don’t get too carried away, though, because you could fall into a chasm if you’re not mindful of where you’re running and jumping.

Luke plays the same as he did in Empire Strikes Back. This time, you only have to press a button to block with your lightsabre instead of having to hold up or down on the controller once you press the attack button. Also, your Force Powers are activated right at the start of the game. The interface for that has changed, too, so you don’t have to press a button, then cycle through to a power, then press another button to activate it. Han Solo becomes available once he’s rescued, of course.

Finally, for the first time in one of these Super Nintendo Star Wars games, you can play as Princess Leia at certain points. Her first outfit is the bounty hunter Boushh. At the beginning, you can choose her, Luke, or Chewie. With Leia dressed as Boushh, she has a stick that, if you hold the attack button down for a few seconds, is able to fire a powerful blast. This is also true of Leia’s chain she uses as a weapon when she’s dressed as “Slave Leia.” She can also do a spin move like Chewbacca.

You even play as the Ewok Wicket, too. He has a bow and arrow as his weapon. You can shoot it into things and it will stick, allowing you to then use it as a spring platform to reach higher areas. He plays the same as the other characters in how you move him around. He does a roll. He can’t shoot and run at the same time, though.

There’s a few third-person levels in this as well. You have the first on the Landspeeder, then the Speederbike chase on Endor. There’s three Millennium Falcon levels, one where you destroy incoming Tie Fighters with the Falcon’s mounted blaster, and the second where you fly on the surface of the Second Death Star (both levels are in third-person). The final one is first-person and you’re inside the reconstructed space station. In this climax, you have Tie Fighters to deal with as well as dodging architecture. You can do spins, too. Then you have to escape the fire from the explosion whilst dodging even more difficult architecture.

The third and second-to-last levels also take place inside the Second Death Star, where you play as Luke, of course, and must confront Darth Vader once again. He uses the same tactics as in the previous game, except he doesn’t throw things at you. After that, you must face the Emperor himself and destroy him once and for all. The Emperor has Force Lightning attacks, floats around the screen, and destroys the platforms you’re on, so you have to be careful not to fall down to your death.

So there you have it! Before the Lego Star Wars games came out, I would have said these were the best video game adaptations of the Original Trilogy. Even though those games change things for comedic effect, they are still great. But even so, these Super Nintendo Star Wars games deserve their place in history as being some of the best. There are times when you get frustrated with the games in terms of dying from enemies or falling to your peril, but overall, they are still worth playing for hardcore fans.

May the Force be with you!

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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