Republic Commando is probably the most ambitious, far-reaching Star Wars single player game that almost got canned and is a Star Wars game I’ve wanted to talk about for ages.
Republic Commando follows a crack squad of special Clone Commandos known as Delta Squad, during a few of their campaigns fighting for the Grand Republic during the Clone Wars. Delta squad is made up of four clone commandos; RC-1138 “Boss,” RC-1140 “Fixer,” RC-1262 “Scorch,” and RC-1207 “Sev”. You ever heard soldiers refer to themselves as brothers? This lot literally are. Born / cloned / spawned and raised together in the Tipoca cloning facilities on the ocean world of Kamino, the “pod brothers” of Delta Squad were bonded and trained by the very best Mandalorian commando sergeants. This not only made them a closer unit but a far more efficient and deadly force than the sum of four regular clones.
Delta Squad were raised from the same genetic stock as brothers, and grew a tight bond with each other. A bond which would be forged in training and tempered in battle. Elite clone commandos like Delta Squad were covertly deployed on super important missions across the galaxy where ruthless efficiency and deadly force could be guaranteed. They’re like the SWAT / MOSSAD of Star Wars.
What’s Republic Commando’s story?
Republic Commando starts right at the beginning of The Clone Wars, during the First Battle of Geonosis. Delta Squad are tasked with assassinating Poggle the Lesser’s chief lieutenant, Sun Fac. Republic Commando then goes on to cover three campaigns during the Clone Wars: Geonosis, an abandoned Space Hulk-like Acclamator assault ship, and the Wookie homeworld Kashyyyk. Republic Commando’s story shows Delta Squad stumbling over a secret trade alliance between the CIS and Trandoshan mercenaries. The ramifications of a a full-blown CIS/Trandoshan alliance could be disastrous for the Republic and so Delta Squad are ordered to engage in guerilla tactics and to ensure the sabotage of any potential alliance.
As you would expect from that, the game is almost all-action but the pacing is absolutely ace. The second act of the campaign is probably my favourite part as the game really slows down and focuses on some storytelling beats. The abandoned assault ship was the first home of Delta squad and starts out with this spooky, kinda haunted house vibe. With the team split up we realise how vulnerable they are by themselves. With Boss’ voice over reminiscing about their ersatz childhood together reinforcing how much these battle brothers rely on each other, but that they would fight and die for each other given a moment’s notice.
You get so caught up in the bond of these four lads, so invested in them as a unit you can easily forget that this lot are technically the bad guys. That’s one of the strengths of the writing. 1997’s TIE Fighter was all about fulfilling that power fantasy of being the baddies but The Clone Wars era blurred the line between good and evil. The Clone Wars cartoon and games like Battlefront II and Republic Commando suddenly painted the clones as heroes. Introducing those moral grey areas and the nuance is probably the best thing the prequel era Star Wars ever did.
As you know, story is one of my main focuses when I talk about games. A good story is what I enjoy most about computer games and growing closer to these characters over the course of the story was very good. The fantastic writing and the brilliant voice acting (I’ll get to that in a moment), meant the characters of Delta Squad really came alive and kept me invested for the whole campaign. The third act of Republic Commando ramps up the action, building a great pace and pulling you all the way through Kashyyk, rushing you faster and faster toward the game’s finalé which unfortunately catches up to you just a bit too quick. Before I knew it the game had ended and the final scene was a real heartbreaker. A brilliant ending to the story, and a testament to the faith LucasArts had in the quality of their staff AND to the innovative development ethos of the mid-2000s games industry.
Republic Commando embraces Star Wars’s dirty side
Long-time LucasArts designer Daron Stinnett had grown bored with the clean and shiny Star Wars universe about single, lone heroes and wanted to create a darker, grittier game about a squad of soldiers. Stinnett had been with the company since Dark Forces and had noticed the growing trend for war shooters. Inspired by the likes of Ghost Recon, Stinnett and his design team tried to find ways to legitimately integrate a dark, military shooter within the Star Wars universe. A tough ask. Props. Stinnett brought in military SWAT advisor. The dev team learned how to hold real weapons and were taught to enter and clear objectives as a team. The clones carry a special gun that can change into an assault rifle, a sniper rifle, or an RPG by switching attachments. I don’t know if that’s realistic but it is really fucking cool and ordering the clones to take up sniper positions or to blow up a tank underpins the flexible, tactical feel of the game. The levels in Republic Commando have been designed to deliver fixed set pieces using the clones abilities and weapon attachments. The storytelling might be a bit transparent in places but it’s all about fulfilling this soldiering narrative.
Republic Commando has uncharacteristically high levels of violence for a Star Wars game. Blood and viscera spatters up the screen, some enemies explode into bits, heads can be blown off. Dismembered bodies and blood stains litter some parts of the game. It looks more like Doom than Star Wars in some parts. When LucasArts originally showed RepCom at E3 2004, it was this gritty, action-oriented shooter with the player controlling four soldiers. The combat mechanics were down solid due to the work of Stinnett and his team, but the game wasn’t Star Warsy. George Lucas saw the game and said it wasn’t humorous enough, it was too grim and needed some levity.
The high concept for Republic Commando became “A shooter for the SW audience, not a SW game for the shooter audience” so as well as this tactical detail and grit, the focus had to be on coolness and fun. The writing team was headed up by Mike Stemmie whose previous writing work had included the scripts for Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy. Stemmie and the team added distinct personalities to each member of Delta Squad, to make players feel invested in those characters and to elevate Republic Commando from being another bland FPS. They added different colour schemes, creating the idea that the commandos had personalised their armour. The differing personalities make the Deltas feel even more like brothers, and now I’m writing this I realise they’re kinda the Ninja Turtles in clone armour, each one with their own defining characteristics. It’s that human connection, that focus on characters and story which rounds off the sharper edges and makes the game a bit less gritty war shooter and a bit more Star Wars. I don’t know if it’s a bug but I always had to order Sev to heal up twice before he did it. Most likely it’s some kind of confirmation bias, but it was like he was saying “I ain’t got time to bleed”.
The most significant difference in crafting Delta Squad’s separate personalities though is in the voice acting. You know I love a bit of voice acting. Originally, all four clones were voiced by one guy – Temuera Morrison, the guy who played Jango Fett. Probably best known recently for voicing Moana’s dad, Temuera is a bit of a hero on my channel and has voiced nearly all appearances of Jango and Boba fett in the computer games. Even though my boy Temuera is a superstar, all four clones being voiced by the same guy didn’t jive with that group dynamic. And so Lucas hired other soundalike Kiwis (Why do clones have NZ accents?). Fixer’s voice was Andrew Chaikin, AKA Kid Beyond. In his capacity as a voice actor, Chaikin played Commander Cody in the RotS game and has a lot of appearances in Star Wars games. Recently he’s voiced A LOT of Telltale games. Jonathan Cook has a strong career in voice acting in both computer games and animation, I feel his best role was Sev in Republic Commando. Scorch is played by Raphael Sbarge who is actually hasn’t done voice work for a few years. He voiced Carth in KotOR and then quite obviously Kaidan in the Mass Effect trilogy. More importantly though, he was Terry the sea bee in Grim Fandango! Just a small choice like that, you’ve got four actors all bringing their own nuance to the roles and the performance is elevated significantly. George suggested one way to lighten the tone up was to get Robin Williams to voice one of the commandos. LucasArts didn’t go with it (I mean it’s kind of a ludicrous idea), but in hindsight Williams had the chops to create a really intense performance balanced with humour. Imagine the marketing.
Republic Commando’s Music is the Real Star
But that still isn’t what’s best about RepCom. Above the great voice acting, the tactical gameplay, the emotive story arc; above the great creature and set design; the star of the show in Republic Commando is the incredible music. Republic Commando has its own original score by Jesse Harlin and is one of the very few Star Wars games to get its own score. Harlin’s score doesn’t rely on clips from John Williams’ music and from the outset was designed to be a very different sound to John Williams’ motifs. In its original iteration, Harlin’s sound was much darker, gritter and more experimental to echo the original darker tone of the game. After the same round of revisions that introduced the lightness and fun to Republic Commando’s core concept, the score was altered to better reflect the Star Wars roots of the game. Harlin’s score still carries this high-octane, moody texture but it’s expertly handled and still sounds like it belongs in the Skywalker stable. One of Jesse Harlin’s biggest hurdles was the fact that John Williams had never conceived of a leitmotif for “good guy” stormtroopers, so in order to immerse the players in a heroic atmosphere, Republic Commando needed a rousing heroic chorus.
Harlin wanted choral music to convey a human connection to the commandos. But English, Latin etc can’t be good choices, this is a galaxy far, far away! Harlin started to create his own language, basic words and sentences. Harlin’s then-girlfriend was a linguistics major and helped him come up with this new alien language. Harlin then spoke to David Collins, the audio lead at LucasArts and showed them what they had. He needed a name for language, and wanted to speak to Big George. Like most of us, Jesse Harlin is a huge nerd and he was praying at this point that Collins and Lucas would let him call his language Mandalorian. Karen Traviss was writing the Republic Commando books at the time and she loved it. Lucas gave it the green light and just like that Mandalorians were back in the continuity. Harlin was a creative powerhouse, experimenting with new forms of instrumentation including the choir clacking their teeth together. The Mandalorian language ended up being used for several choral battle songs on the score including the banging title tune, Brothers All. Not many games had original scores at that time, and RepCom’s something special. This fast-paced, vocal theme stretches the boundaries of the traditional Star Wars sound, but immerses the player in the Republic Commando ethos. Jessie Harlin went on to score the Knights of the Old Republic games and The Force Unleashed with Mark Griskey, Karen Traviss used the Mandalorian language in her books and Harlin’s linguistic major girlfriend agreed to marry him. Ozzie went on stage and did a great show. A happy story all round! Well, nearly.
Will we ever get Republic Commando 2?
The marketing for Republic Commando was hobbled. The new LucasArts CEO Jim Ward came from the film division and games didn’t excite him. 2005 was the year of Revenge of the Sith and Ward had already pushed Battlefront II, which meant RepCom got pushed out with little fanfare. LucasArts had a history of being ahead of the curve when it came to PC games. But the transition to console was expensive and risky, so LucasArts were slow to get on that and Republic Commando suffered more than most. In the modern era, Republic Commando has a bit of a cult following. Delta Squad got a series of EU novels as previously mentioned. Dave Filoni, when supervising The Clone Wars cartoon, requested that Delta Squad appear in the show, so they were written into Witches of the Mist, a season three episode. That makes Delta Squad officially CANON BTW. The modern PC port still plays well and feels like a steady, if simple, shooter. I couldn’t get mouse smoothing working but there’s mods for vsync, widescreen support and a couple of decent graphics patches. Republic Commando is £7 on GOG and Steam at the time of writing which might get you a set of clone armour in BF2.
There was a sequel to Republic Commando at the pitching stage but Disney closed it all down when they bought LucasArts. There were two ideas for Republic Commando 2. One of them was Imperial Commando. Set during Order 66, ImpCom would pit the commandos against the Jedi as Delta Squad hunt down the remainders of the Jedi Order. The second idea, Rebel Commando, would have been about Sev becoming the first imperial soldier to rebel. Essentially Sev would be the start of the Rebellion. Both games wanted to introduce co-op play and both games sound like a dream come true.
So much of the history and insight in this video comes from a series of Let’s Plays by RepCom’s lead developer, Brett Douville. It’s a thoroughly entertaining series and something I recommend highly.