Cal Kestis, the main protagonist of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, has been in the spotlight here on Escapist for the past couple weeks. Two of our contributors, Jack Packard and Elijah Beahm, didn’t find much to like about this character.
They found him to be bland and generic, someone who often didn’t follow the true path of a Jedi. While Cal is admittedly a bit boring and his backstory somewhat bare, I viewed him as the reluctant protagonist, forced into a situation he really didn’t want any part of but had no choice but to take part in.
Fallen Order’s plot assumes players know a lot about what’s already going on in Star Wars’ universe. Cal’s in hiding from the Empire following the execution of Order 66 and the fall of the Jedi Order. The Empire and Inquisitors are on the hunt to find the remaining survivors, many of whom have gone into hiding or have cut themselves off completely from the Force.
Cal is quickly identified as Force-sensitive in Fallen Order’s campaign as he’s left with no choice other than to save his friend Prauf during an accident on the planet Bracca. From that point on Cal has no other choice but to survive and put whatever time he has left to the objective laid out in front of him. This inherently provides the needed context for many of Cal’s actions during the game and gives him purpose.
It’s important to remember that for most of the game, Cal Kestis isn’t a Jedi. Cal really is just another person in the galaxy who happens to be Force-sensitive. He survived Order 66 and received some training as a Jedi Padawan, but he never got the chance to complete his training and become a true Jedi.
Cal taking down scores of stormtroopers and other beings on the planets you visit through Fallen Order’s campaign is just something that he has to do to stay alive. The Empire is out to kill him, so while the Jedi Order may have been peacekeepers before the Clone Wars and Order 66, they’re now just survivors — and the old rules no longer apply in most cases.
We really don’t need a moment of self-reflection from Cal Kestis, considering the circumstances at play. It’s either kill or be killed, and Cal knows this. In fact, Cal doesn’t even truly understand what it means to be a Jedi until almost the final moments of the game.
His journey to becoming a true Jedi is shown by gameplay as he progresses through the story and relearns or remembers certain Jedi tricks and abilities. As he rebuilds his connection with the Force, he’s also working through the trauma that was inflicted upon him through Order 66 and the immense losses he has suffered.
It’s a bit sloppily done, but it gets the point across that Cal becomes more and more confident in his abilities and himself, culminating in one of the best scenes in the game when Cal rebuilds his lightsaber and has to fight through waves of stormtroopers to escape Ilum.
Cal learning to control his emotions and work through his trauma provides an infinitely more interesting character than he would have been had he just “followed” the Jedi way without truly understanding what it means. Once Cal finally stops fighting the past, sheathes his lightsaber, and promises to honor the teachings of his former master, only then does he become knighted as a Jedi.
I would have liked to have seen Respawn spend more time building up the trauma Cal suffered through though, letting players experience Order 66 in more than just a single gameplay sequence and cutscene. The narrative would have heavily benefited from letting players build that relationship with Master Jaro Tapal and even the clone troopers you interact with for a few moments.
One of the most powerful moments in the game for me was seeing Cal interact with the clones as a child and even consider them friends, then moments later having them turn against them without hesitation, leaving Cal completely bewildered and running for his life. Even from the player’s perspective and knowing what was going on, it was a pretty frightening sequence of events.
As the reluctant hero, Cal Kestis’s most Jedi-like act in the game is listening to Nightsister Merrin and destroying the holocron so that the children won’t suffer the same fate as he and the other Jedi. It’s a selfless act for the greater good, even if it means the Jedi Order will remain lost.
The story of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order isn’t really about finding the holocron; we already know from the start how that story is going to end. The real story in Fallen Order is about the survivors of Order 66 — Cal, Cere, or even the Second Sister — coming to terms with the trauma and loss inflicted upon them and finding a reason to continue moving forward.