by Marty Demarest

Have you admitted to yourself how much the last two Star Wars movies sucked? You know how, if you like them at all, it's an act of indulgence? How you're giving George Lucas credit because, well, you invested so much in the series? Whether it's toys, videos, or just time spent fantasizing, you've put a lot of yourself into the Star Wars universe, and you need to get something back, dammit.

Knights of the Old Republic, for the Xbox, is payback. It's a video game - a video game! - that justifies every moment you've spent hanging onto those feelings you had when you first saw Star Wars. This game has more story, substance, and spirit than the last two films put together. And it's a game.

On the surface, it's not a particularly attractive one. Given the fact that it's built for the Xbox, the most technologically-impressive console yet made, it looks like a disaster. The textures are barely an improvement on what PCs were offering half-a-decade ago. The sounds, though recognizably from the Star Wars universe, lack finesse. And aside from the game's main protagonists and antagonists, there are about five character models used throughout, meaning that every one you talk with in the game looks pretty much identical.

But these are all problems that we can point to in the films' first incarnations as well: cheesy effects, humdrum sound, and overused extras. That didn't stop them from galvanizing our imaginations, and it doesn't stop Knights of the Old Republic either. Here is your chance to become a pre-New Hope Jedi and choose whether to travel the path of light or of darkness. What starts out as a standard paper-thin video game plot takes several surprising turns and becomes an exploration of good and evil, fate and choice, with all the excitement of Star Wars. There are even jokes; one Rocky Horror Picture Show reference made me sit forward in shock. Since when was Star Wars secure enough to remind us that it was all made up?

Knights of the Old Republic is hefty - it will easily set you back 40 hours - and you may find yourself playing it twice just to experience the branching story lines. But it's worth every moment. In fact, when the next film is released, you may want to stay home and fire up your Xbox. This is the way to remember Star Wars.

Publication date: 09/11/03

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