Star Wars: The Interactive Video Board Game (1996) — A VCR board game review

“I sense a disturbance in the Force.”

Justin’s rating: The Force is wonky with this one

Justin’s review: While Disney is oozing Star Wars out of every non-Marvel pore these days, it’s easy to forget that there was once a time when new movies were a tad scarce. Say, between 1984 and 1998. Scrounging up actual new video material from this time period results in a lot of Ewoks but not much else.

Except that the truly desperate may have turned to something more sinister than the Dark Side to sate their desires. Yes, in 1996, fans might’ve seen the box for this board game and plunked down hard cash for the promise of “Darth Vader footage you’ve never seen before!” Believe it or not, David Prowse and James Earl Jones actually came back to reprise the role of Darth Vader for this game, shot by A New Hope cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. That right there makes it something worth checking out, even if it will inevitably be a disappointing hyperjump to the past.

“The photography had to match the original film,” said Gilbert Taylor to Star Wars Insider, “but we didn’t have the facilities or the money to do it. So I had to get the same results in a different sort of way, with different equipment.”

In the board game, players assume the roles of Rebels scurrying around the Death Star II trying to disable it before it reaches the planet D’rinba IV and goes all kablooey on it. Attempting to stop them is the dark lord himself, who orders a search of the station for the Force-sensitive Rebels.

Like the Star Trek VCR board game, this one unfolds in a similar fashion with a lot of quiet interlude time and occasional appearances by our key villain who gladly gives instructions in this card game. As in, if your name starts with a letter from the words “DARK SIDE” then increase your dark side points by one. He also really loves to arrest players currently moving around and even converts one (lucky? unlucky?) player into his apprentice.

Unlike the Star Trek game, this one includes both original material and recycled stuff from the first three flicks. In fact, they cobbled together a lot of clips from the movie — as well as John Williams’ iconic score — and spliced it in with the new footage. As a result, it boasts higher production values than I had assumed. And it’s a thrill to hear James Earl Jones’ Vader voice instead of a discount imposter.

I can imagine that the combination of the O.G. Vader, the music, and the random bad guy pop ups would have kept players on edge as they tried to accomplish their task. There’s even a visual chart on the interlude segments where you can see how close the Death Star II is to the planet.

So what is one to make of this? Star Wars: The Interactive Video Board Game only has a “story” that you can pick up with inferences and imagination to fill in the gaps. Yet it’s oddly watchable, thanks to the music and the appearance of real Vader. Yes, I kind of wish that he had gone a bit past exposition-and-rules guy to spit out a few fun quotes or let his anger go, but I still watched this hour-long video start to finish without regret.

Maybe, for some of the faithful, it would make a lovely screensaver or something to put on the background to make a room feel more Star Warsy. But in this day and age when we’re drinking from the Star Wars fire hose — including even more original Darth Vader appearances — the novelty of this seems quaint.

Didja notice?

  • A new scroll and the original John Williams score!
  • The original set and characters aren’t as cringy as I had anticipated

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