So Star Wars Battlefront II has finally been revealed to the masses. The 2015 game’s criticisms definitely look like they’re being addressed, most primarily with the inclusion of a single-player campaign. The story mode will take place immediately following the destruction of the Death Star II in Return of the Jedi; as Iden Versio, leader of the Inferno Squad, players will take revenge on the Rebellion for their actions against the Empire. And that is… one hell of a hook to base a Star Wars story on. We’ve played as the Empire in various games in the franchise before, but not in a post Force Awakens era, and certainly not in a story that’s being marked as definitively canon.
Through Iden, the developers hope to provide some insight into how the Empire felt about taking such a crushing defeat. There’s little room for sympathy when you consider all that’s stacked against them, but there’s no denying that there would be some interest in watching how the remains form into what’ll more than likely become the First Order that we see in Force Awakens. It’s all there in the trailer itself; from the look in Iden’s eyes as the space station explodes to her hardened words: “We avenge our Emperor.”
As EA Motive was quick to remind panel attendees and viewers, the Death Star II blowing up was a loss for them, and the game will start with Inferno Squad on Endor watching the space station be destroyed right before their very eyes. Even though they won’t outright say the Empire are the bad guys in Battlefront II and want to present the other side of the conflict, the game is still going to have an uphill battle to climb with this angle, especially if they’ll be following through with making sure that Iden goes down as a hero by the time the story wraps. Exactly how one goes about making her a “hero” in the Star Wars universe when she’s likely going to be one of the big forces leading to the creation of the First Order is definitely going to be a challenge, to say the least. While we don’t have much to go on in the way of how that’ll play out, it’s certain that her home planet of Vardos–already drinking the Kool-Aid of the Empire–will play a huge role in seeing how they shaped her into the character we’ll know her as.
Given how long we’ve come to accept the fact that the Empire is evil, it’s certainly ballsy for Battlefront II to put us in their shoes during the aftermath of their biggest failure. It’s not exactly hyperbolic to say that everyone interprets the Empire as space Nazis. While there’s been defectors such as Agent Kallus from Star Wars Rebels, nuanced characters such as Doctor Aphra of her titular comic, or Rogue One’s Orson Krennec ultimately just wanting credit for his work, those examples are certainly overwhelmed by how the Empire came to be, the genocide they’ve caused, and the fact that they used a space station to destroy multiple cities and blow up an entire planet. There are those among the fandom who will argue that the Jedi are actually the villains in comparison to the Sith, but it’s doubtful those same ilk will also rush to defend the ideals and methods of the Empire. Wanting order and stability is perfectly fine, but having political detractors assassinated and establishing regime on other planets isn’t something most people will argue in favor of.
Shades of gray is something that this universe could benefit from, but there’s a limit to how far that can go. These guys are fascists, and there’s simply no way to even argue that 40 years after the original film’s release. With fascists of any stripe, trying to make them relatable is always an issue you’re going to run into–and given that there’s another branch of the ultra powerful Disney corporation going through this at the moment and that isn’t going well, there’s likely going to be some push back here as well.
When you break it down, Battlefront II is a revenge story, and part of what makes that appealing is that we can connect with the wronged character. Ezio Auditore lost his family, Corvo Attano was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and so on. The Empire and their successor the First Order don’t have that distinction, and there’s always going to be bias against them. Iden and the rest of Inferno Squad are real humans with definite lives that don’t exempt their ignorance with programming like Finn or being a Clone-like early Stormtrooper. The very binary nature of the Star Wars franchise (which may be changing, if Last Jedi ends how many believe it’ll end) doesn’t allow for a lot of flexibility like other sci-fi franchises, such as the political and religious machinations that underlie the actions of the Covenant from Halo.
It’s doubtful that EA and DICE won’t touch upon this in some fashion through the course of Battlefront II’s campaign. Much like how there’s no getting around how much WWI ended up sucking for all involved in Battlefield 1, you can’t make a Star Wars game where you’re a member of the Empire and not see how weird it is to try and paint them as sympathetic without making them look like a bunch of incompetent doofuses questioning if they’re doing the right thing. Lore hounds who pick up the tie-in novel are sure to connect with Iden and the rest of Inferno Squad in some way before the game’s release, but others are going to scratch their heads when commercials come around in October and November with the tagline “For the Empire!” popping up. We’ll find out how all that goes in seven months, but until then, declaring vengeance in Palpatine’s name isn’t on the highest of priorities.