Opinion – Star Wars: The High Republic Deserves Better Than Quantic Dream

Announced via industry-standard “cinematic” trailer at this year’s Game Awards, Star Wars: Eclipse is the first AAA title Lucasfilm has unveiled since breaking its exclusivity deal with publisher EA. The trailer, and subsequent marketing materials, tell of a branching narrative experience set in the expanding High Republic timeline, developed by French studio Quantic Dream.

It was the logo drop that caused a million voices to suddenly cry out in terror, though initial reactions to the trailer (which notably does not include gameplay or even concepts of it) itself were largely positive despite Quantic Dream’s shaky reputation with audiences.

The studio’s output since hitting mainstream-adjacent appeal with 2010’s Heavy Rain has been divisive, to say the least. Its games are largely narrative-focused outings that boast player choice-based possibilities and immersive visual storytelling. They’re also incredibly clumsy and made by a studio that is currently under fire for a host of alleged workplace abuses and a CEO whose open disdain for marginalised folks is literally on record.

#BlackOutStarWarsEclipse

From the infamous “X to Jason” shitposts of old to the gross mishandling of oppression narratives in the studio’s most recent output, Detroit: Become Human, there is a vibe surrounding Quantic Dream that no reasonable person would choose to associate with the Star Wars franchise.

And yet.

Star Wars: Eclipse is set to take place during The High Republic, Lucasfilm’s first entirely original story push within the franchise since the Disney acquisition. At the time of writing this, it is just barely a year old but has already expanded into a successful, multimedia publishing branch that takes place some 200 years before the events of The Phantom Menace. So no Skywalkers and no Palpatines (yet). The Jedi are in their prime here, the Republic is rapidly expanding across the galaxy and hope, generally speaking, abounds. There are also carnivorous, sentient plants and punk pirates – it rules, go read it.

But it is also shockingly inclusive. Star Wars has weathered its fair share of criticism for its lack of diversity, often both in front of and behind the camera. The Rise of Skywalker, 2019’s calamitous end to the Skywalker saga, offered an all too brief queer kiss in its closing moments but it was a far cry from the potential representation the sequel films could have offered. Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy of books featured an openly queer central character back in 2015, indicative of a trend in the franchise of representation being relegated to the publishing arm of the company.

A somewhat backhanded allowance for queer people that The High Republic has no less embraced and celebrated. Across half a dozen novels and loads of comics, we have seen easily the most inclusive era of Star Wars come to life with a litany of characters who represent the diversity of the series’ fanbase. The High Republic has become, through no small effort, a safe and inclusive space for queer fans and now that space is fundamentally threatened by Star Wars: Eclipse.

Honestly just putting this here to scare a homophobe.

*Content Warning: The following passage contains a homophobic slur and links to reports which feature upsetting images*

Allegations against Quantic Dream and its leadership first emerged in 2018 when French publications Canard PC, Le Monde and MediaPart reported on alleged toxic workplace culture at the studio. The reports, which were part of a joint investigation as well as independent attempts at verification, spoke of a top-down enabled environment of staff exploitation including but not limited to “crunch” culture and labour law violations. It is also alleged that the studio is rife with inappropriate behaviour including racist and misogynistic jokes as well as photoshopped images of workers’ faces on Nazi imagery and pornographic content.

Cage and co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière took legal action against these outlets in the following months, suing the publications for libel. While their case against Le Monde was successful, the simultaneously filed case against MediaPart was not, the judge found that the publication had acted in good faith. It is neither a clear cut indication of guilt nor innocence, with Cage fiercely defending himself against the allegations.    

In transcripts released from court appearances by Solidaires Informatique, Cage was reportedly seen crying and fleeing the courtroom when made to listen to remarks he had allegedly made to his staff. Amid a list of supposed quotes, the one that has stuck with many Star Wars fans this week was his declaration that his studio “..doesn’t make games for fags”, a shockingly candid bit of hate speech so clearly recorded that it strains plausibility that Lucasfilm was unaware of it when the choice was made to work with Quantic Dream. Cage has an alleged history of these kinds of remarks, noting before that in his games “…all women are whores” while Fondaumière reportedly asked if he could lie regarding the alleged abuses because he wasn’t under oath.

Key art from The High Republic (which notably looks nothing like Eclipse but I digress)

The allegations, and Cage’s bigotry, are reflective of wider industry toxicity which has seen gaming giants such as Ubisoft and Activision come under intense scrutiny. The problem is evidently systemic and unfolding on a scale that makes any form of resistance to it from a consumer level feel all too slight but Star Wars fans are nothing if not persistent. In the days since the reveal of Star Wars: Eclipse the hashtag #BlackOutStarWarsEclipse has taken off on Twitter, a resounding rejection of this particular branch of the franchise being given to the likes of Cage and co. The hashtag came about through queer content creators Pink Milk who have spent this week encouraging fans to rally together and send a strong message to Lucasfilm.
  
The anger toward Lucasfilm over its decision to partner with Quantic Dream is, unfortunately, beginning to feel all too familiar as the latest in a growing list of grievances fans have toward the studio. The Rise of Skywalker was rightfully and intensely criticised for what many perceived to be the deliberate exclusion of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico from the film after her character faced a barrage of racist attacks online following The Last Jedi. Elsewhere, the choice to hire Rosario Dawson for The Mandalorian while she was under active investigation for a violent crime against a trans person, or the far too quiet removal of Gina Carano after her inflammatory political remarks on social media, have fans feeling at odds with the company that shepherded so many of us through our childhoods.

This is why The High Republic has been so thoroughly embraced by queer and marginalised fans of Star Wars, it has been a necessary haven amid a wider trend to discount or exclude those fans. The stories these creators are getting to tell are vibrant ones full of exciting new ideas for the franchise and groundbreaking diversity. High Republic authors and creators are also active in fan communities, engaging on social media about all sorts of things from shipping discourse to conversations about why representation matters and how they can continue to improve on it.

Sinjir Rath Velus in Aftermath was the first time I felt like I could truly see myself in Star Wars and now, some six years later, we have a whole portion of that galaxy far, far away carved out to help everyone feel seen by this wonderful world we all adore so much.

David Cage’s comments are completely antithetical to what The High Republic represents. His alleged unmasked contempt for marginalised people is morally repugnant and that it did not preclude him from Lucasfilm’s business speaks to a bizarre lack of due diligence, at best. With Star Wars: Eclipse still reportedly being several years away from completion there is arguably time for Lucasfilm to course correct but the sting of the announcement is unlikely to fade anytime soon.

The degree to which Quantic Dream is fostering a toxic workplace is still unknowable but Cage’s involvement in the game after such pointed alleged remarks surfaced, without a whisper of acknowledgment from Lucasfilm or the French studio, is unconscionable.

Star Wars The High Republic, and its queer fanbase, deserve better than this.

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James Wood
James literally cannot recall a time in which video games weren’t a part of his life.A childhood hobby turned adult fascination, gaming has been one of the few constants.

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