I had Return of the Jedi bed sheets as a kid. I had Star Wars action figures. I even had the giant Darth Vader head that housed and displayed said action figures. As an adult, my Star Wars geekiness didn’t go away; it just got more expensive.
I saw John Williams conduct his music from the films at the Hollywood Bowl (with James Earl Jones as the emcee, no less), my best friend got me a Darth Vader lightsaber as a groomsman present (I’ve also got an Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber and a Kylo Ren lightsaber… two of them, actually), I owned Sega’s Star Wars Trilogy arcade game as well as the original Atari arcade game from 1983 (which I modified with a Vectorlabs kit to run Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back), and I’ve decorated my game room with an x-wing, tie fighters, Slave 1, the Millennium Falcon, the Death Star, and even the ship from the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. I also own a Star Wars beanie (a bald man essential), several Star Wars shirts, Death Star board shorts, and perhaps most embarrassingly: a Chewbacca pajama onesie that I like to rock in the winter.
So while there are many arcade/video game geek stereotypes that are not true of me, this isn’t one of them. I like Star Wars. A lot.
When the pinball rumor mill started rumbling that Stern was working on a brand new machine based on the original trilogy, I was cautiously optimistic. Stern has been pumping out some great games lately, but for whatever reason, Star Wars hasn’t had the best track record with pinball. The Data East game from 1992 was just okay (cool artwork, but very repetitive), Sega’s Star Wars Trilogy from 1997 was ugly and clunky, and Williams’ Episode 1 pin from 1999 suffered from a terrible case of Jar Jar Binks.
To date, no one had made a great Star Wars pin. Could “the master of flow,” Steve Ritchie, be our Obi-Wan Kenobi? If anyone could pull it off, it’s the guy who made AC/DC, High Speed (and its sequel), Star Trek, Spider-Man, T2, and several other classics… right?
When the first photos surfaced in June of 2017, I’ll admit it: I was a bit underwhelmed. I wasn’t really digging the playfield art, and while the layout looked good, it seemed lacking in the bells and whistles department. I did, however, like the video clips of the Premium/LE model, and I really liked the AT-AT side art and translite for the Premium model (I’m all about The Dark Side of The Force) – so I contacted the distributor I bought my Walking Dead and Ghostbusters from, and asked him to put me on the list for a Premium.
In late July, I got the opportunity to play the Pro model of Star Wars at California Extreme. I was pleasantly surprised that the playfield artwork looked significantly better in person, and while there wasn’t much going on as far as interactive toys, the game was a speed monster with excellent flow, and the sound and video clips added a palpable layer of theme integration. The fact that it has a fairly open playfield just leaves room for cool mods later down the road, and the Premium/LE version actually features several things that aren’t on the Pro (including an exploding Death Star, a light-up Millennium Falcon, and a magnetic, hyperspace ramp that sends balls zipping around the playfield). It was also running pretty solid code for being brand new. It didn’t take me more than a couple of games on a Pro to determine that I was all-in on the Premium. Nevertheless, I spent the bulk of the weekend continuing to play it. You know, for research…
At the show, I met Steve Ritchie, who signed a Pro translite and flyer for me:
I also attended a discussion panel with him, where he talked about (among other things) the making of the game. Apparently, Disney was very difficult to work with, and while he’s happy with how the game turned out, he’s in no hurry to work with them again any time soon.
Once home, in preparation of my game’s arrival, I hung up my signed Steve Ritchie translite and flyer, along with some other signed Star Wars stuff:
On September 1st, 2017 (Force Friday II, coincidentally), my Premium shipped from my distributor in Missouri. I knew the game probably wouldn’t arrive for about a week, but that didn’t stop me from looking at my phone every five seconds, hoping that the shipping company would call.
That call came on Thursday, September 7th, with a delivery set for that same morning.
This game was going in my upstairs game room, so my best friend (and fellow pinball enthusiast), Mike, came over and we removed the handrails from my stairs, slid Star Wars up (using the very box that the game shipped in as a makeshift sled), removed the game room door, shimmied the game in there, and then put the legs on once inside.
I’ve already added some mods to the game, and I plan to do more. So far, I’ve installed a shaker motor, a light-up lightsaber (I ordered a red one, but they sent a green one… which I’m kind of digging), a red and blue LED lightstrip for the F-O-R-C-E targets, an orange LED for the mystery scoop, a bezel for the LCD screen, a Star Destroyer, Slave 1, and Death Star speaker grill covers.
Like the Death Star aimed menacingly at Alderaan, Stern’s Star Wars has destroyed the curse of lame Star Wars pinball machines. It is fantastic, and I’m very happy to have it in my collection!
Here are lots of pics:
And here’s a fun aside to this story. While some of my arcade buddies came over to help me christen the game, Joust world record holder, Lonnie McDonald, was in the house, putting up a 9,999,999 score on my machine a few feet away from us. Pure arcade awesomesauce.