Since its first episodes in 2019, people have immediately noticed how much like a videogame The Mandalorian is, and that’s not an insult. The constantly helmeted protagonist Din Djarin lends an uncommon level of anonymity to the character, a common trait in games that invite players to imagine themselves taking the role of its main character. Multiple scenes and scenarios revolve around completing side-quests in exchange for armor or weapon upgrades, or what could be described as story progress. It’s almost as if this show were designed to be a videogame, or at least to have a videogame tie-in that many are begging Disney to make happen.
To the public’s knowledge, no such game is in development. But before official work on The Mandolorian even began, something very, very similar nearly became a reality.
As detailed in a chapter from Bloomberg News videogame reporter Jason Schreier’s 2017 book, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, development studio LucasArts had tentative plans for a videogame tie-in to George Lucas’s ill-fated TV series, Underworld, all the way back in 2009. Like the show, the game would depict a more mature side of the Star Wars galaxy, where crime and violence were rampant between mafia groups living underneath the crust of the planet Coruscant.
To fit this gritty, grimy setting, LucasArts, the team behind traditionally kid-friendly point-and-click games such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Sam and Max Hit the Road, had a major shift in genre, aiming to imitate the cover-shooter gameplay of the Gears of War series. Even after Underworld was deemed too expensive to produce, the idea behind a similar type of game lived on.
That’s how the idea for Star Wars 1313 came to be in 2010, named after the Coruscant’s underworld’s 1313th level. Instead of being mafia members, the premise now had players take control of a bounty hunter, with ambitious hopes of imitating Naughty Dog’s top-of-class narrative adventure structure. Even more ambitious, they aimed to have the game out around the launch window of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, taking full advantage of the extra horsepower the platforms would provide.
One of the biggest obstacles in LucasArts’ way: George Lucas himself.
Before his retirement in 2012, Lucas was actively invested in the studio carrying his name, especially Star Wars 1313. However, as his films’ multiple versions would indicate, his revisionist tendencies often got the better of him, which made progress on the game nearly impossible. An order from Lucas may as well have been a directive from God for LucasArts, and if George Friggin’ Lucas wanted you to throw out months of crunch in order to change something that affected the entire level’s design, then that’s what you did.
The biggest change came when Lucas decided that instead of playing as previously unknown bounty hunters, Star Wars 1313 should star the best-known hater of Sarlacc Pits, Boba Fett himself. As this would practically throw out the game’s entire story up to this point, developers begged him to reconsider, but his mind was made up, and thy will be done, the game now needed to start practically from scratch months before it was planned to be revealed at E3 2012.
Despite knowing the majority of it would be thrown out, the team continued to heavily crunch on the E3 demo, which when showcased, garnered an outpour of excitement and earned many placements on “Best of E3” lists. Even with the long road ahead of them, the energy around the game compelled LucasArts to move forward with it, and made them feel more confident that, however bumpy the road, this was a game that was eventually going to appear on store shelves.
Then, in October 2012, Disney made a certain $4 billion purchase. On April 3 of the following year, the company shut down LucasArts and all of its projects, instead signing a 10-year contract with Electronic Arts to make its big budget Star Wars games.
In a last-ditch effort to save Star Wars 1313, a ragtag team of ex-LucasArts developers set up and prepared a detailed and passionate presentation. The pitch was to recover whatever code and developers were left of the game and begin once more at Visceral, one of EA’s development studios behind games in the Dead Space and Battlefield series. Steve Papoutsis, the studio’s manager, was their only hope.
He declined, instead offering job interviews for key staff members to work on an entirely new project, directed by Uncharted’s own Amy Hennig and (here’s where Blood, Sweat and Pixels becomes outdated) codenamed “Project Ragtag,” which would have featured a similarly ambitious, action-packed storyline had it not also been canceled in 2017. Then came an open-world Star Wars game codenamed “Orca,” canceled in 2018, and a Battlefront spin-off titled codenamed “Viking,” canceled in 2019. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve canceled another Star Wars game this year just to keep the streak going.
EA’s only fully single-player Star Wars game to get on store shelves has been Respawn Entertainment’s 2019 title, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which critics and audiences mostly enjoyed despite it feeling derivative of other game series’ playstyles. With so many canceled projects and controversies around many of its published games, especially Star Wars Battlefront 2’s microtransaction-laden launch, it’s possible (though entirely without evidence) that Disney could choose not to renew their contract with EA when it expires in 2023. Perhaps having a publisher less terrified of any iota of risk would help the chances of story-driven Star Wars games, you know, happening. At all.
In many reports of game development for big budget games, developers will talk about burnout from excessive crunch and pressure, often expressing that they wish they had never signed on to the project or gone to the lengths that they felt compelled to do through company culture and practices. This is certainly an element in the case of Star Wars 1313, likely heightened by the fact that these years of crunch were in the end, to have no final product and to be laid off by a company that deemed their hard work and passion insufficient for their profit margins. Nevertheless, many at the company expressed a continuing enthusiasm and pride in what they were able to accomplish, and sadness not just for the human cost of its production but for the loss of what could have been an extraordinary experience to play.
As Evan Skolnick, who most recently acted as narrative designer for 2019’s Concrete Genie and served the same role for Star Wars 1313, is quoted in Schreier’s book, “if the phone rang, and it was them calling to say, ‘Hey, we want you to come back and make a new 1313, I’d be asking what time they want me there.”
Perhaps it’s selfish and deluded, but I can’t help but hope that with the success of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett premiering in December 2021, perhaps one day, Skolnick will get that call.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and The Post. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.