But what made LucasArts games so special?
Although LucasArts may be best known for its Star Wars games – starting as the gaming branch of Lucasfilm, George Lucas' production company – the developer's biggest successes in the 1980s were point-and-click adventure games. The classic Maniac Mansion, released in 1987, introduced the SCUMM engine, that would provide the model for most of their two-dimensional adventure games (including several Indiana Jones games, Loom, Day Of The Tentacle, and The Dig).
It has a very familiar look to a certain type of gamer: a collection of verbs like "Look at" or "Open" on the bottom of the screen, and bright inventory. It looks somewhat ungainly now, but at the time it was a revolutionary step toward mouse-based interfaces and away from text adventures that forced players to type in all actions.
The Secret Of Monkey Island's sword-fighting may be the greatest single example of what made the early LucasArts adventures so special. Dueling might theoretically be a fast-paced, dangerous activity in reality and in many games, but in Ron Gilbert's approach it becomes a silly battle of wits. By tossing out insults, and making rejoinders, you change the momentum of the fight. "You fight like a dairy farmer!" is matched by "How appropriate, you fight like a cow!" In making the fights about words, failure without death becomes thematically consistent. It's the most memorable part of one of the greatest games of all time.
LucasArts' success with adventure games was quickly followed by success with flight sims like Their Finest Hour and Secret Weapons Of The Luftwaffe. Although an almost-underground niche now, flight sims were once considered a major genre, with every well-rounded PC gamer acquiring a flightstick at some point. The flight sim's close cousin, the space sim, was an obvious next step. This would lead to arguably LucasArts' greatest triumph: TIE Fighter.
The generalization that licensed games are terrible has been commonly accepted throughout the history of gaming. LucasArts' success with Star Wars is by far the most consistent exception to the rule. That's not to say that there weren't major missteps – Star Wars Chess and the fighting game Masters of Teräs Käsi stand out as particularly bad. The idea of a Star Wars game becoming a classic became uncontroversial.
Occasionally, LucasArts and LucasFilm got too ambitious with the license. At three different points – Rebel Assault 2 (1995), Shadows of the Empire (1996), and The Force Unleashed (2008) – a Star Wars game became a new focus of storytelling for the franchise. Rebel Assault 2 was the first officially licensed product to be allowed to use film characters like Darth Vader in new live-action video. Shadows of the Empire was the focus of a confusing multimedia campaign to tell what happened between episode five and six. Likewise, The Force Unleashed was supposed to tell the story of what happened in-between the original trilogy and its prequels. Though successful in their own ways, these games did not demonstrate Star Wars gaming at its best.
The decline of the adventure genre hit LucasArts harder, but its attempts to adapt and bring the genre into modernity birthed some of its more memorable games, like Full Throttle and The Curse of Monkey Island. But the clear standout of the era was Tim Shafer's Grim Fandango. Combining influences from film noir, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and jazz music, Grim Fandango still remains a fan favorite. The well-designed puzzles make it a fantastic adventure as well, and easily deserving of its reputation of being among the best of the genre.
LucasArts was less successful in adapting to the changes in Star Wars itself, however. The company shifted to focus almost entirely on Star Wars games around the same time as the prequel trilogy that began in 1999. This was not a good combination: the poorly received first two prequel films didn't gain the cultural cachet of their predecessors, a process paralleled by relative disposable games like Jedi Starfighter, Super Bombad Racing, and Obi-Wan. [Hey now, let's not forget Episode 1: Racer - Ed.]
LucasArts got back into the distribution of non-Star Wars games in the late 2000s, most notably with the Mercenaries series. However, in recent years, they struggled to find the same dominant place in the industry that they'd had for so long.
When Disney purchased LucasFilm, LucasArts was in no way untouchable, though the studio appeared to be regaining its footing with the graphically impressive Star Wars 1313. It was not meant to be, however, and the beloved company has been put to rest. Celebrating LucasArts' great games seems to be the perfect way to mourn.
Rowan Kaiser is a freelance writer currently living the Bay Area, who also writes for The A.V. Club, and has been published at Salon, Gamasutra, Kotaku, and more. He still occasionally finds Ultima VI Moongate maps and mantra notes when he visits his parents' house. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser.