Star Wars: Republic Commando is one of the best squad-command shooters I’ve had the good fortune to play, and I couldn’t be happier it’s getting a new lease on life on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. However, taking place after the events of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, its tale of a tiny squad’s victory over impossible odds can’t be entirely trusted.
There’s nothing new about games having unreliable narrators, but more often than not, such stories deal in extremes. Your protagonist will spend six hours roaming a haunted forest, looking for their spouse, before remembering they crudely dismembered them and mailed the pieces to Antarctica. Or as you’re about to kiss the mono-gendered alien love interest, it strikes you that there have been some major inconsistencies with this space epic. Suddenly, the scene dissolves to reveal you’re a gin-sodden space janitor who’s fallen asleep in a pile of their own sick.
Yet it’s not guilt that makes Republic Commando’s story questionable, nor has your character’s mind been influenced by some otherworldly entity. There’s no gut-punch moment where the curtain is pulled back to reveal “the truth.” Instead, it’s the choice to warp your character’s worldview, which, while ostensibly making you more empathetic towards their plight, calls the whole game into question.
The documentary accompanying the game details how concept artist Greg Knight and LucasArts opted to present you with a visually warped view of the world, compared to the films’ “true” perspective.
“If the movies were seen from the lofty perspective of the Jedi,” reasoned Knight, “what might the same universe look like as seen through the battle-hardened eyes of a soldier?” It’s a bold decision that makes Republic Commando stand out compared to other Star Wars properties, and it makes it easier to identify with not just your squad but the other hapless clones.
You’re not looking down from some balcony, uttering trite “wisdom” and getting your words in the wrong order. Instead, you’re viewing Attack of the Clones’ closing scene from the ground, loaded into ships that will return half-empty, if at all. You might be Delta-38, leader of your commando squadron, but you’re still a disposable asset, an inconsequential member of a slave army the Jedi are all too willing to employ.
So when you run into your first battalion of battle droids, they’re not the laughably inept comic characters that Obi-Wan Kenobi could sweep away with his hand. They retain their basic outline but clank towards you with menace, eyes glowing. You’re in at the deep end, and that’s before you’ve laid eyes on the super battle droids. It’s a relatively subtle change that proves surprisingly effective.
The further you push into the game, the more distorted Delta-38’s perception becomes. The Geonoshians start to resemble the secret lovechild of Episode I’s Watto and one of H.R Giger’s Xenomorphs. The Trandoshans, normally human-sized lizard people, are pure muscle, squat beings that can dismember you in moments.
By the time you’re reached Republic Commando’s final chapter, you’re running into Wookiees who are as tall as two Lady Dimitrescus, clambering over massive Jurassic Park-style gates with barely a pause for breath. Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew wouldn’t have known where to start.
But it’s not just the visual changes that call the veracity of Republic Commando’s lead character into doubt. There are other things, too, that are strangely skewed. Why don’t Delta 38’s fellow clone commandos all sound exactly the same, for example? Could it be that, struggling to carve out a measure of individuality, he’s mentally assigned them new, distinct voices? Are they even the same soldiers? Or, unable to cope with the loss of his teammates, does he just hand out names? Is there always a Fixer, Sev, and Scorch?
What about all the tight scrapes that the squad always seems to get themselves out of, the million-to-one odds that, as Terry Pratchett noted, crop up nine times out of 10? The Republic Cruiser that just happens to turn up on time, right when the squad needs it? In any other game, these twists and turns would be just smart storytelling, a means of dialing up the tension.
However, by deciding to present you with an already altered view of Republic Commando’s “reality,” LucasArts has opened the door to doubt. You can’t trust what you, as Delta-38, are seeing, so why should you trust anything else about his tale? Worst of all, if you follow this train of thought, it reframes the game’s conclusion in a particularly grim manner.
After losing Sev, the remaining commandos board a Republic Gunship, ready to be dropped back into the fight as the Republic forces descend on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. But before they do, a familiar figure appears on the holo-projector. It’s none other than Master Yoda, who singles out the now three commandos.
“Rendezvous with Delta Squad, we must. On them we rest much hope. Wookiee freedom must not be sacrificed,” he explains.
If you take Star Wars: Republic Commando at face value, this is a fitting conclusion to the game, a reward for their heroism and recognition of their importance. And if you don’t? It’s still a fitting conclusion, but an infinitely more depressing one. Delta-38’s clone masters might have drilled the “glory of battle” into him and done their best to breed out PTSD, but that’ll only go so far.
About to be thrown back into the meat grinder that is the Clone Wars, an already traumatized Delta-38 imagines Master Yoda’s message, desperately seeking some scrap of recognition; he rewards himself with a brief, imaginary glimmer of validation — acknowledgement that his existence has at least some significance.
The worst-case scenario is that, instead of being a bullet-resistant Clone Commando, he’s a regular clone bleeding out. The entire story of Republic Commando is nothing more than a dream of what might have been. However, rather than ending on that grim note, I’d like to advance one final theory.
Star Wars: Republic Commando is, in its entirety, the recollections of an aged Delta-38, telling his tall tales in a smokey off-world cantina. Enemies take on a new menacing air, Wookiees are 20 feet tall, heroic deeds are magnified a thousand fold, and fallen comrades are remembered fondly. And as unreliable a narrator as Delta-38 might be, I don’t really begrudge an old soldier that.