Ask anyone to list off the iconic heroes of the Star wars mythos and you’ll hear the expected Han Solos and Luke Skywalkers. Maybe some folks have a special soft spot in their hearts for Lando Calrissian or even Wedge. New-school gamers might hold up Starkiller, the protagonist of The Force Unleashed games, as a worthy addition to the Star Wars mythology. Some might even say that Lord Vader himself winds up being the biggest hero of the saga, by making the ultimate sacrifice.
But there’s one character that no one will mention, I’d wager, and that person is Kyle Katarn.
Katarn first appeared in Dark Forces, a Doom-style FPS released by LucasArts in 1995. Katarn served the Empire for a short time until he found out that they’d murdered his dad. From there, he became a mercenary. The problem with Katarn as a character is that he’s obviously meant to be a stand-in for Luke Skywalker. His backstory is a little too close to Anakin’s son: humble farmer parents, a secret connection to the Jedi, eventually becoming an invaluable part of the Rebel Alliance. At first, the only thing really different is the beard and he didn’t even have that at first. Katarn comes across as an attempt to meld elements of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker into one playable character. He’s not a wide-eyed true believer and great pains are made to show how morally ambiguous he is before joining the Rebels. This guy was a stormtrooper and Imperial soldier, after all. Sure, the case was made to Mon Mothma that his anger towards the Empire would make him a great asset, but, outside of the fiction, the parts that make him up as a character seem to be constantly at war with each other.
And there’s the gameplay.If there’s one genre the Star Wars mythos shouldn’t be bolted onto, it’s the FPS genre. You can’t really communicate the coolness of the Jedi’s iconic weapon in a first-person game. And the endless parade of guns Katarn wields just seem inelegant. George Lucas created the Jedi to be science-fiction samurai and, in keeping with that, using blasters just seems uncouth.
Later games had Katarn using the lightsaber and becoming a full-on Jedi. Amongst his lamer decisions was passing up the chance to apprentice under Luke Skywalker. But he thought better of was amongst the first light-side Jedi to wield Sith-related powers like Force Grip and Force Lightning. In fact, there’s an alternate Dark Side ending in Dark Forces II.
It’s not just Kyle himself who’s become a blind spot in Force continuity. It seems that every new ally or enemy he dealt in the Dark Forces or Jedi Knight games with has been forgotten. Maybe it’s because the gameplay looks outdated compared to current Star Wars titles. Or maybe it’s the budget-challenged full-motion video that moved the story along in the Katarn games. When compared to the eye-popping spectacles of the feature films, those FMV clips just give the impression that Katarn’s story is happening in some less important corner of the galaxy.
Still, with the advances in game development since he last graced the screen, the time might be ripe to resurrect the unlikely Jedi Master. What do you think, readers? Do you want more Kyle or is he best left as a nearly-forgotten Star Wars curiosity?