Ever since I was a young girl and sat tucked up in bed, waiting patiently for my father to push in the VHS tape for A New Hope just ‘one more time before bed’, I had a fixation on Princess Leia. Leia was amazing because she looked great in white, kicked butt and I was pretty much gay at birth but just didn’t know it.
Anyway, that really felt like ‘Star Wars‘ to me at the time, even outside of redemption, Death Stars and lightsabers. Yet, in spite of it all, there was that one little niggle: where were the other girls, didn’t Leia have any of them to talk to? It was a niggle that has since grown into full-blown annoyance with age, and it’s one that raised almost instantly when hearing about that infamous interview Game Informer had with Respawn.
It was an interview that, to sum up the reason why Jedi Fallen Order didn’t have a female protagonist, was due to Rey simply being the ‘in’ thing at the time. Yes, it doesn’t make sense to anyone else either.
Regardless of this disheartening tidbit of what felt like the confirmation that women in Star Wars were only allowed to exist one at a time, I told myself I would go into Jedi Fallen Order with a clear head and would attempt not to be as biased. After all, we hadn’t had a Star Wars game that hadn’t been filled to the brim with microtransactions for a while now, I had to take what I could get.
And the game, well, it’s okay. If it didn’t have the Star Wars name slapped on it, I truly think it would have scored less than it did. It’s a game that will have fans gasping at all the right moments and lovingly waxes nostalgia by throwing out easter eggs and quotes that’ll have you feeling emotional because, despite how predictable it may be, it is a Star Wars game.
But that’s an argument for another time. What I really want to talk about is Cal Kestis and how completely unnecessary his existence is throughout the majority of the game. That’s not a dig at Cal, he isn’t unlikeable at all, and is much more charismatic than Starkiller ever was, but I’m not convinced that his story was interesting enough to be the narrative backbone of Jedi Fallen Order.
The execution of Order 66 and the following purge of the Jedi is an evoking event, but one has that been done time and time again. Of course, Jedi Fallen Order adds more than a few different embellishes to add flair, but for fans, it is ultimately a story that is well-tread. We’re aware of Cal’s loneliness and the threat he faces even before we start the game, and it already makes the beginning feel stale.
In fact, the excitement of the journey only begins to pick up when it is revealed that Cal’s companion-turned-master, Cere, hasn’t told the whole truth. Cere’s apprentice Trilla, who’s believed dead, is in fact the Ninth Sister, an Imperial Inquisitor that is considered ‘the Big Bad’ from the very beginning of Jedi Fallen Order, leaves you feeling as though you’ve just got on an emotional rollercoaster with no way of getting off.
More importantly, it puts the relationship between Cere and her lost apprentice right at its heart by being the other side of the same coin as Cal and his master, Jaro Tapal.
Only, the relationship between Cere and Trilla is never explored in the same depth as Cal’s with his master, leaving us to do most of the guesswork around a 30-second flashback that shows the moment Cere leaves to protect Trilla from the Jedi purge. We’re told again and again that Cere’s decision to leave, and thus, the indoctrination that Trilla received due to it, is something that weighs heavily on Cere’s shoulders but we’re rarely shown the turmoil that she faces because she’s too busy shouldering Cal’s own troubles.
That in itself is a huge problem. It’s very rare that women are allowed to process their own grief, instead of pushing it aside in order to fulfill the usually white, male and heterosexual, hero’s quest. It’s even worse in Cere’s case, as she not only takes on a motherly role, but the narrative quite literally paints her as the angry, black woman. It’s not my place as a white woman to go more into this, but boy, it’s a trope, alright and a crappy one at that.
And so while Cal eventually goes to learn from his mistakes and forgive himself, Cere does not get that same satisfying outcome. She and Trilla are given an ending of sorts, but it falls flat to expectations and it feels that the reason for this is that Jedi Fallen Order just doesn’t want to delve deeper into Trilla and how she’s affected Cere.
Sure, Cere cuts herself off from the Force to try and squash her emotions, including her anger, but Trilla’s main purpose seems to serve as an antagonist for Cal and his goals, rather than the meaning behind her past with Cere. It’s expected, Cal is the protagonist after all, but it only makes me wonder why that is when Cal has no personal stake outside of well, himself? It doesn’t make him unlikable, but it makes his story lack weight, especially in comparison to Cere and Trilla.
But it isn’t just Cere who suffers from having to shoulder Cal’s insecurities and pain. Despite only being in the game for a laughingly short amount of time considering her importance to the endgame, Merrin, the Nightsister that Cal encounters on Dathomir, also spends her time with the crew trying to direct Cal to a better path than endangering young Jedi force users.
We find out that Merrin had been led to believe that her fellow Nightsisters died at the hands of the Jedi, but thanks to meeting Cal (who uh, kinda killed everyone in her village) she realizes that this isn’t the case and that she must choose her own path in life. And so she ends up following Cal and the others on their adventure.
I can forgive not showing Merrin mourning the lost lives of her sisters, as she’s been doing so for years before Cal’s bland ass showed up, but the timing of her arrival and her complete disregard for her dead brothers makes me question why Merrin is 100% okay with joining up with people that aren’t all that receptive to her existence in the first place. Is the power of Cal’s face enough to turn any woman over to his side? Did I activate this somehow with skill points, what the actual hell is going on here?
Outside of the boggling mental gymnastics I had to perform to try and understand why Merrin would give a damn about us, it just doesn’t make much sense that Merrin is introduced at the end if she’s supposed to be important. Sure, you can easily go around and explore other planets before heading to the endgame, but Merrin’s narrative potential is instead crammed in the most unsatisfying way and frankly? Her being a Nightsister already makes her far more interesting than half the characters I’ve met in this game.
But nope, we’re going to put Merrin in this weird ‘useful-but-also-hinted-as-the-love-interest’ role for the rest of the game, because if there’s one thing that’s going to make Cal interesting it’s going to be a love interest. One that, albeit, is much more interesting than Cal himself.
Overall, the women in Jedi Fallen Order are exemplary and fascinating but just aren’t given the time to be fully explored in the way they deserve. It’s not altogether surprising considering the response from Respawn about a female protagonist and Star Wars’ own history when it comes to including women, but very rarely delving deeper into their stories.
If the game does get a sequel, there’s one thing I’m praying for: no more Cal Kestis as the protagonist. Please, I beg you.