When you get close to 40, it's tough to justify playing with Star Wars action figures.
But thanks to Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and an army of video game programmers, we older kids have an outlet for our enthusiasm now that George Lucas has revved up the 25-year-old franchise with today's release of the latest movie installment, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
The filmmaker's gaming company, LucasArts Entertainment (www.lucasarts.com), has turned out great and not-so-great titles over the years using the characters and story lines from the Star Wars pictures.
Priced from $30 to $50, the games are usually faithful to the movies' themes, but often take players on extended jaunts to worlds and situations outside of the Star Wars movie universe.
The action runs the gamut from starship combat to light-saber dueling to serious strategy gaming. Almost all have John Williams' thunderous scores adding to your movie, er, gaming experience. But what really makes the games appealing is that you don't have to know Boba Fett's relationship to Jango Fett or memorize the names of all of the cities on Tatooine in order to play and understand what's at stake.
Even so, if you're not quite up to the challenge, Prima Games (www.primagames.com) publishes several strategy guides that can help you find bonus mission objectives and unlock hidden goodies with cheat codes. No honorable Jedi would use these, but if you're swayed by the Dark Side of The Force, they're a good investment.
Here's what we found:
Space combat in Jedi Starfighter (PlayStation 2 and Xbox) places you in the ship that Obi-Wan Kenobi boards in Attack of the Clones for a harrowing chase with Jango Fett through an asteroid field. You play the Corellian Jedi Master Adi Gallia and several other characters in nimble spacecraft challenged by Droid starfighters, scarabs, planetary defense guns and battle droids.
Background: The Trade Federation has a stranglehold on the Karthakk system, and your job is to stop the evil and solve the mystery of the weapon of mass destruction being used on the local citizenry.
Your Jedi Starfighter happens to be a special test craft with four Jedi "Force Powers," in addition to regular spaceship lasers. Using the force shield at maximum power with "force clarity" allows you to deflect shots from enemy fighters back to their ships just as Obi-Wan does with his light saber. Just remember that this nifty defensive move isn't always available, and once used, its power must be regenerated as your mind rests.
The action in this title really rocks, and the cooperative mode -- in which two players sweep the skies together -- makes for interesting wingman play.
Look for the hidden bonus objectives to get access to extra missions and new ships.
Drop back 10 years before Attack of the Clones in the Star Wars timeline for Star Wars Starfighter (PlayStation 2 and a Special Edition for the Xbox).
Don't confuse this release with the title above -- it's an older game, and although the Xbox version comes with extras and bonus missions, it's dated by the release of the newer Jedi game. Even the yellow Naboo N-1 Starfighter looks terribly passe compared to the new Jedi spacecraft.
Still, if you're a hardcore Star Wars gamer, you can use the original Starfighter to practice for Jedi Starfighter.
Six months after the release of the Nintendo GameCube, the console's killer app remains Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II. (Please, someone, turn this into an Xbox game.) Straight out of the first series of Star Wars movies, Rogue Squadron puts you above the Death Star and in its trenches among other historic Star Wars battles for slam-bang action.
Fly an assortment of ships including the X-Wing, Y-Wing and even the Millennium Falcon, all of which were made famous in the first trilogy. The controller seems made for this game, providing straightforward steering and shooting opportunities, although I would love to have a joystick for the GameCube.
What makes Rogue Squadron II stand out are the mind-blowing graphics and sound. In fact, some of the action here looks better than the movies', and better than the LucasArts offerings for the Xbox and PS2. Gorgeous visuals, snappy missions and a solid storyline make Rogue Squadron a must-buy for Star Wars fans who own the GameCube.
It's a big leap downward from outer space to the ground for Star Wars: Racer Revenge (for the PS2), a follow-up to Star Wars: Episode I Racer. This is a ho-hum, combat-oriented racing game, with a controller that appropriately mimics the ones on the racers in The Phantom Menace. Each joystick controls an engine. An attack basically means swerving into your nearest opponent to force him into an obstacle, such as a boulder.