There are job vacancies in the Star Wars universe. While Han Solo plays tag with Boba Fett, the rest of Imperial society needs to maintain a status quo, and that’s where we fit in. The teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally confirmed, after years of worried Attack of The Clones speculation, that there are real people under the Stormtrooper helmets, and if the panicked look on John Boyega’s face is any indication, the Galactic Empire could always use new entry-level employees.
The 1993 PC game TIE Fighter (remastered on CD-ROM in 1998) epitomizes the friendly and entertaining Star Wars job market. A spaceflight simulator that puts you in the cockpit of the screeching enemy spaceships from the original trilogy, in TIE Fighter you are essentially sent to work for the government in a galaxy far, far away.
Everything in TIE Fighter exists to further the feeling of a grandiose universe that would be okay without you, but appreciates your existence. The story unfolds through briefings and debriefings with the occasional cutscene where you’re rewarded with medals for completing a tour of duty or given a badass lightning tattoo for helping the Emperor’s secret agenda. To be great at TIE Fighter is to feel what it would be like to win employee of the month on the Death Star.
It also turns out that piloting TIE Fighters is a really fun job. The relationships you build with the various spacecraft in the game foster a sense of real contribution. Each ship feels like a tool, built for a specific purpose, responding to the hands of an experienced player like a store employee wielding a favourite box cutter or familiar cash register.
The flight controls are simple compared to modern spaceflight simulators like Elite: Dangerous, but it’s enough to make you take pride in your job when you do it well. Resource management between engines, lasers and (when available on more advanced craft) shields and tractor beams, as well as slightly customizable heavy armament loadouts give you a working relationship with one of the most iconic sci-fi vehicles of all time.
The mission structure in TIE Fighter also helps draw you into the best fake government job you could ask for. There are no graphically complex, high stakes missions. You never pursue a rebel through Beggar’s Canyon or get a clean shot off at Dash Rendar. That’s not your job. Some of the most difficult parts of the game are actually the most job-like, requiring you to identify the cargo of certain vessels so that your superiors can capture contraband or stowaways.
When you deviate too much from primary mission parameters in pursuit of secondary and bonus goals – which earn you the aforementioned reward tattoos for the Emperor’s secret circle – one of your shady crooked bosses reprimands you for undermining the institutional corruption he secretly profits from.
That’s right. TIE Fighter even gives you an overbearing boss who blocks your fast track to the Emperor’s side and the tattooed glory that comes with it.
Unlike so many games today, which allow you to live out a hero fantasy as some new character in an ego fest, TIE Fighter gives you the joy of being a cog in the watch that is Star Wars. It feels real because you’re an off-screen TIE pilot. You don’t have a name, just a call sign and a job to do, and it gives the world of the franchise the kind of gravity you feel when, say, a movie trailer is released with new footage of the Millennium Falcon. After all, heroism is relative to unremarkable everyday life, and Princess Leia sure as hell isn’t applying for a desk job.
Star Wars similarly belongs to its common fans. It lives in barroom conversations and endless Facebook comment threads, in our nerdy rants and our most sincere endorsements, in our childhood and our parents’ childhoods and – well, it doesn’t go much further back but you get the point. After all the joy Star Wars gives us, there’s something wholly satisfying in the illusion of giving back. We’re important even if we’re invisible.
We care about Star Wars because it feels tangible, a world we can affect that no individual has the power to wholly change. In TIE Fighter what you do is important, in the way that everything everyone does is important. Without cogs like you the clock doesn’t tick, even though you, like all the fans that make Star Wars what it is, are hidden beneath the surface.