Arcade Hall of Fame: Star Wars (1983)

It’s the 40th Anniversary of both Return of the Jedi and Atari’s Star Wars arcade game. So I thought I’d revisit the latter for Star Wars Day 2023!

I was just three years old when my Dad took me to the cinema to watch The Empire Strikes Back – and it made such a huge impact on my tiny, developing mind that Star Wars remains one of my longest running obsessions.

However, I must admit that it lost me during the prequel years, especially after sitting through the awful Attack of the Clones on opening night with a full audience – who seemed as disillusioned as I was with the awkward dialogue, wooden performances, terrible CGI and horrifically misjudged attempts at comedy.

As a big and especially egregious example, Threepio’s ‘hilarious’ Battle Droid head-swap is just as bad as any of the Jar-Jar Binks stuff in Episode One, if not worse because it involves one of the saga’s most beloved characters, who is often genuinely funny without that awkward nonsense.

As a kid though, I couldn’t get enough. Toys, comics, books (I read the Empire Strikes Back novelisation when I was five or so, which greatly impressed my family), lunchboxes, duvet covers, pyjamas – I was a fully obsessed Padawan.

When I spotted the beautifully designed Atari Star Wars arcade machine – in its sit-down form – for the first time in a seaside arcade at the tender age of 6 (around the time I also got to see Return of the Jedi, early news of which had me at fever pitch), I couldn’t wait to get my 10p piece in the slot and take down the Death Star.

The sound effects, music and even the simplistic vector graphics – which were advanced for the time – all evoked an authentic Star Wars ambience, and it was a true thrill to be piloting an X-Wing and doing my part to stop the evil Empire’s planet-destroying super-weapon.

Almost to my surprise, I managed to fire my proton torpedoes into the tiny exhaust port on my first attempt, setting off the chain reaction that would strike a decisive blow against the Imperials.

Satisfied with my win, I excitedly exited the machine, not realising that I’d merely completed the first wave and that, as was fairly common in arcade games at the time, I would just be moving on to the next, more difficult wave and trying to do it all again – the aim being to get the highest score of course, taking down successive Death Stars along the way.

Perhaps that was enough for six year old me though: the destruction of the Death Star signalling that my work there was done.

In any case, I’ve since returned to the minimalist vectors of Atari’s galaxy far, far away and it has lost none of its appeal or magic.

Countless more games have recreated the famous Death Star trench run in the intervening years, but – despite advances in technology and game mechanics – none have ever had the same level of immersion that tiny six year old felt in the wooden X-Wing cockpit at the seaside 40 years ago.

May the fourth be with you. Always.

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