Star Wars (1983 video game)

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Star Wars
North American arcade flyer showing the upright and cockpit cabinets
Developer(s)Atari, Inc.
Publisher(s)Arcade Ports
Parker Brothers
Designer(s)Mike Hally
Programmer(s)Greg Rivera
Norm Avellar
Composer(s)Earl Vickers
Platform(s)Arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Acorn Electron, BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum, MS-DOS, Macintosh
Genre(s)Rail shooter

Star Wars is a first-person rail shooter designed by Mike Hally[5] and released as an arcade video game in 1983 by Atari, Inc.[6] It uses 3D color vector graphics to simulate the assault on the Death Star from the 1977 film Star Wars. There are three connected gameplay sequences: combat against TIE fighters in space, flying across the surface of the Death Star, and the final trench run. The sequence repeats with added complications and the Death Star regenerating for each. The player's X-Wing fighter has a shield which only protects against damage a certain number of times, then the next hit ends the game. Speech synthesis emulates actors from the film.[7][8]

Developed during the golden age of arcade games, Star Wars has been included on lists of the greatest video games of all time. Home ports were published by Parker Brothers, Domark, and Broderbund. It was followed by a lesser-known arcade sequel, sold as a conversion kit for the original, in 1985: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.


The first phase: combat vs. TIE fighters. The player's shield can take 6 hits.

Assuming the role of Luke Skywalker ("Red Five"), the player pilots an X-wing fighter from a first-person perspective. The controls consist of a yoke control with four buttons — two trigger style and two in position to be pressed by the thumbs — each of which fired a laser positioned on the four leading edges of the X-Wings.

The player does not have to destroy every TIE Fighter and gun turret in order to advance through the game; instead, the player must survive for a set length of time, either avoiding or destroying enemies and the shots they fire. The player begins with six shields, one of which is lost for every collision with an enemy or projectile. If the player loses all shields and is hit again, the game ends.

Each wave of the game consists of three attack phases, culminating in the destruction of the Death Star.

Phase 1[edit]

In the first phase, the "Imperial March" or another part of John Williams' Star Wars score is briefly played electronically and the player engages in a dogfight with Darth Vader and enemy TIE fighters in outer space near the Death Star. After the TIE fighter waves, when flying towards the Death Star, the yellow grid lines on the Death Star spell out either "May the force be with you" on odd-numbered waves or names of some of the developers on even numbered waves.

Phase 2[edit]

In the second phase, the player must fly across the surface of the Death Star to reach its equatorial trench. This section is omitted during the first wave of the game. During the second wave the player is attacked by artillery bunkers, while in the third and subsequent waves laser turrets on towers rise to confront the player. The player is awarded a bonus for destroying every turret.

Phase 3[edit]

In the third phase, the player must navigate the trench until finally firing a proton torpedo for a direct hit on the exhaust port target. If the player is successful, the Death Star explodes and the player is awarded a bonus shield, to a maximum of six (can be set internally for a maximum of eight). Should the player fail to hit the exhaust port, a shield is lost and the player must attempt the trench again. If the player manages to destroy the Death Star without firing at anything but the exhaust port, a bonus is awarded for "using the Force."

The game then resets to the first phase. Each successive wave greatly increases the difficulty; TIE fighters shoot more often, artillery bunkers and laser towers appear in the second phase, and obstacles appear in the trench during the third. Unlike the movie, where the units shoot beams similar to lasers, the enemy units in this game shoot projectiles resembling fireballs, which give the player a chance of destroying the shots.[6]


Development on the game started in 1981 under the title Warp Speed and was initially headed up by Ed Rotberg (who also worked on the vector-based Battlezone).[9] Rotberg left Atari in October 1981, after which Atari signed a licensing agreement with Lucasfilm and finished the game.[9]


Star Wars was converted first by Parker Brothers (with development by Imagic) in 1983 and 1984 to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, the Atari 8-bit family, ColecoVision, and Commodore 64. The ColecoVision version was programmed by Wendell Brown.[10]

Acorn Electron conversion by Vektor Grafix

The same game was converted again, in 1987 and 1988, for the Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron and BBC Micro; the game was also converted again for the Atari 8-bits and the Commodore 64. All conversions were developed by UK-based Vektor Grafix (the Atari 8-bit version by Zeppelin Games being an exception) and were published in Europe by Domark. That same year Broderbund acquired the rights to develop Star Wars games from Lucasfilm. Broderbund published the Macintosh, Commodore 64, and MS-DOS versions of the arcade game in North America in 1988, in addition to republishing the Atari ST and Amiga versions in 1989.

The Amiga and Atari ST allow mouse control and include digitized sound effects. The Macintosh version contains sampled speech from the films, but has no in-game music other than a monophonic theme during the "attract" mode.

Star Wars also appears in the GameCube game Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike as a bonus minigame that can be unlocked after completing a certain level or entering a cheat code. In the United States and some European countries, anyone who pre-ordered the game received a special copy of the game in which Star Wars is immediately unlocked on startup.


The game was Atari's top-selling 1983 arcade release, with Atari producing 12,695 total arcade units.[11] In the United States, it topped the Play Meter arcade chart for street locations in October 1983.[12] In Japan, Game Machine listed Star Wars on their November 1, 1983 issue as being the most successful upright/cockpit arcade unit of the month.[13]

COMPUTE! praised the Atari ST version of Star Wars, calling it "amazing, smoothly animated".[14] The MS-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, and Commodore 64 versions by Broderbund Software were reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #145 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 3 out of 5 stars.[15] Macworld praised the Macintosh version's gameplay, stating that it has "fast-paced action" and is "extremely challenging in higher levels". The magazine also praised the sound effects and 3D graphics, stating that the latter "enhance the game's action and excitement". Macworld criticized the master disk-based copy protection, and the game only having three playable scenarios with "limited" replay value.[16]


In 1995, Flux magazine ranked the game 61st on their "Top 100 Video Games."[17] In 1996, Next Generation listed the arcade version as number 58 on their "Top 100 Games of All Time". Citing "Awesome vector graphics, multiple triggers, a deluxe cabinet with powerful speakers in the back, [and] digitized voices", they ventured that it was "Probably the best licensed game ever."[18] In 1999, Next Generation listed Star Wars as number 24 on their "Top 50 Games of All Time", commenting that, "Besides giving you the opportunity to reenact what many of us consider to be the greatest cinematic experience of our youth, Star Wars delivered fast-shooting gameplay with all the subtleties, and the combination of tight control and vector graphics make it equally fun today."[19] In 2001 it was voted one of the top 100 arcade games of all time by the members of Killer List of Videogames.[20]


Star Wars arcade machines can be converted into The Empire Strikes Back via a conversion kit.[6]

As mentioned above, a complete emulation of Star Wars, along with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is included as bonus content for Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike.

In October 2019, Tastemakers LLC's Arcade1up division released a 3/4 scale recreation of the original Atari arcade cabinet featuring emulated versions of the coin-op Star Wars arcade, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi games.

High scores[edit]

In 1984 Robert Mruczek scored 300 million points in 49 hours of gameplay (the world record for an individual) and in 2005, Brandon Erickson set a world endurance record of 54 hours on a single credit (with a score of 283 million).[21] In June 1985 Flavio Tozzi, Dave Roberts and Mike Ohren played as a team in turns for five days, two hours and 26 minutes on a single credit to attain the world record score of 1,000,000,012 points. It was verified in the September 1985 edition of the Computer and Video Games. Their efforts raised money for a local charity.[22] The score counter of this game "turns over" at 100 million points.

It was decided to put the machines on a harder setting for the annual Twin Galaxies International Scoreboard/Guinness Book Masters Tournament: initial shields and no bonus shields. In the 1986 Tournament, David Palmer scored 31,660,614 points in about 7 hours, a score which was published in the Guinness Book of World Records and remains the world record to this day.[23]


  1. ^ a b "Star Wars". Media Arts Database (in Japanese). Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  2. ^ "Star Wars (Registration Number PA0000428109)". United States Copyright Office. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Arcade Action". Computer and Video Games. No. 24 (October 1983). United Kingdom: EMAP. 16 September 1983. pp. 30–1.
  4. ^ a b "Video Game Flyers: Star Wars (Spain)". The Arcade Flyer Archive. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  5. ^ "Star Wars". Retrieved 2014-06-26.
  6. ^ a b c "Star Wars - Atari (1983)". The International Arcade Museum. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  7. ^ Collins, Karen (2008). Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-262-03378-7.
  8. ^ Lambie, Ryan (July 12, 2022). "Remembering Atari's Star Wars 1983 coin-op: a masterpiece of arcade tech". Wireframe magazine. Retrieved 22 September 2022.
  9. ^ a b "Army Armed with Quarters!". Next Generation. No. 26. Imagine Media. February 1997. p. 49.
  10. ^ "Colecovision Game Index/Star Wars". Retrieved 2014-06-26.
  11. ^ "Production Numbers" (PDF). Atari. 1999. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 10, 2013. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  12. ^ "Play Meter's Equipment Poll: Top Videos". Play Meter. November 15, 1983.
  13. ^ "Game Machine's Best Hit Games 25 - アップライト, コックピット型TVゲーム機 (Upright/Cockpit Videos)". Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 223. Amusement Press, Inc. 1 November 1983. p. 33.
  14. ^ Plotkin, David (July 1988). "ST Star Wars". Compute!. p. 51. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  15. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (May 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (145): 44–53.
  16. ^ Schwartz, Steven (February 1990). "Star Wars 1.0 Review". Macworld. Mac Publishing. p. 213.
  17. ^ "Top 100 Video Games". Flux (4): 31. April 1995.
  18. ^ "Top 100 Games of All Time". Next Generation. No. 21. Imagine Media. September 1996. p. 51.
  19. ^ "Top 50 Games of All Time". Next Generation. No. 50. Imagine Media. February 1999. p. 77.
  20. ^ "The Top Coin-Operated Videogames of all Times". The International Arcade Museum. Retrieved 2014-06-25.
  21. ^ "Yale Alumni Magazine: Arts & Culture". Archived from the original on 2006-08-23.
  22. ^ "Alien Bashing Record". Computer and Video Games. No. 47. September 1985. p. 119.
  23. ^ "1987 Guinness Book of World Records".

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