You find yourself climbing into a vent, familiar territory turned hostile by Trandoshan boarding parties. In that miserable hole, you find a fellow clone trooper with a lightsaber beside him. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age, eh? Well, guess what — times have changed. This isn’t a Star Wars story where people call each other “Snips” and “Skyguy” with quaint moral lessons at the end. This is Star Wars: Republic Commando.
The Mandalorian and Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars both owe a considerable debt to the wave of Star Wars Legends material Republic Commando was at the forefront of. Before Ahsoka leapt on screen with spunk and one-liners, the Clone Wars were some of the most intense stories in the entire canon. From the launch of Attack of the Clones to the conclusive finale of Revenge of the Sith, the fictional war was waged across books, comics, and several games.
For the first time since Shadows of the Empire, there was a concerted effort to integrate all these various stories into one cohesive narrative. Republic Commando heralded the dark times to come in Revenge of the Sith. It gave players the chance to witness firsthand the Battle of Geonosis, the brutality of Star Wars naval warfare, and the invasion of Kashyyyk from behind the helmet of a clone commando in the Grand Army of the Republic. All the while, General Grievous’ looming presence foreshadowed the destruction he’d bring to Coruscant and beyond.
Republic Commando is a game of brutal efficiency. Playing as Delta 38, otherwise known as “Boss,” leader of Delta Squad, you lead a four-man squad into the nastiest holes in the galaxy. Everyone dispenses with the pleasantries as war descends across the galaxy. Your visor wipes away the oil and blood of your enemies. Droids aren’t comic relief but horrifying monstrosities that tower over you. Alien species are distinct and unpredictable, demanding adaptive tactics. You’re rarely in a position with advantage, and any allies coming to your aid are few and far between.
Commandos are viewed as disposable and deniable assets. Trained from birth by Mandalorian teachers hand picked by Jango Fett, all any clone has is his squadmates and the heritage of a world he may never live to see. Many squads didn’t survive past the rushed invasion of Geonosis, leaving Delta one of the better regarded and battle hardened. They saw the best of the war and the worst. This endears you to them early on, as their contrasting personalities bring a surprising amount of charm amid the gloom. Every member of Delta Squad, despite their shared genes, is a unique person.
Boss is fiercely loyal to his men, always has his eye on the prize, and is bitterly sarcastic. Scorch has an almost child-like wonder for explosions and going into battle, constantly cracking wise with his pod brother Sev. The two are from the same batch and managed to survive all this time together, no doubt in part due to Sev’s disturbing efficiency. His concern for his squadmates is genuine, if not “colorfully” shown, such as asking you to hold your guts in while he rips out the enemies’ so he can revive you. Then there’s Fixer, the squad’s resident nerd who’d just like everyone to stay by the book and is probably the only one to read every mission briefing back to back.
The squad has an instant chemistry, further bolstered by distinct voice actors highlighting how Republic clones view each other as separate individuals. In game, Temuera Morrison’s voice is exclusively for Boss, because as far as Boss is concerned, that’s his voice, not anyone else’s. It’s a subtle yet clever storytelling flourish we could only experience from this point of view, one of many such narrative elements.
Republic Commando’s use of a helmeted first-person perspective really puts into perspective how harrowing the Clone Wars were. Electrical interference jamming your HUD can leave you vulnerable as you scramble to find the source. Alien foes lunge at you with gruesome blades while droids pummel and blast you without warning. When you’re downed, you can hear Boss gasping for breath as you’re left to decide whether to command your squad to come to your rescue or hold back. You don’t just magically restart at a checkpoint though. You have to suffer through it, because while you’re not a person to the Republic, replacing you would cost them credits. Though that same courtesy isn’t extended to your less elite brethren.
Without any space magic to save you, you’ve only your wits and some bacta to keep you going. The campaign both unites and separates the squad several times, and the absence of a single ally is tangible. Regular clones barely last a minute into battle, but you’ll be hurting when Sev’s not available to provide sniping support or you have to manually hack a terminal because Fixer’s still being revived by Scorch. The pressure is unrelenting; a single super battle droid can wipe your team without proper strategy.
It’s this immense struggle that makes it all the more satisfying when you make it through. Sure, everyone’s health stats are on the verge of being downed, and you’ve barely any ammo left, but you won. You didn’t need the Force. Clone or not, you’ll fight to survive another day, for the honor of your brothers.
In Republic Commando, Star Wars felt tangibly grounded. Every sound, lore reference, and plot beat connects directly with the greater war effort. Republic Commando is the war through the eyes of those who fought it. They were bred for war, practically slaves, but it was in their blood to fight, so they fought like rancors all in the hope for a chance to make it through to the end. Except that’s the trick — it never did. In the end, all it amounts to is the rise of a new war. Just another assignment.
At the time, the game captured so much fan favor that an entire novel series was written, first concurrently and then continuing the game’s story. Karen Traviss, the godmother of Gears of War’s expanded universe, detailed the origins of the commandos, ARC troopers, and all the clones on Kamino. She even developed their language, writing lyrics to the game’s famous song, Vode An, in Mando’a.
The game and series are easily the closest Star Wars ever came to true military science fiction, evolving the lore of the clones and Mandalorians in ways that even integrated ideas from Knights of the Old Republic into a relevant time period. Republic Commando is the Legends timeline at its best. It was a fresh angle from a perspective we’d yet to experience. It challenged conventions and expanded the world while fitting neatly in the broader story. That freedom and bravery to experiment with the themes of Star Wars defined Legends in the early ’00s, leading to some of the most remarkable experiences and stories, especially in gaming.