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A long time ago – nearly four decades ago – in arcades near and far away, Star Wars fans climbed into a cockpit-shaped game cabinet, plunked in their quarters and experienced the virtual thrill of piloting an X-wing starfighter à la Luke Skywalker.

With Star Wars: Squadrons, out today, players can get that Star Wars Arcade experience on steroids, right at home.

The new video game ($39.99, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PCs, rated for ages 13-up) puts players in the cockpits of New Republic and Imperial fighters and other spacecrafts in the Star Wars universe after the Rebel Alliance’s victory at the end of the movie “Return of the Jedi.”

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Stay sharp as you play and you can eventually become a fighter ace on both sides of the coming-to-a-close Civil War. Switching back and forth between your two customized fighter pilots – one with the New Republic, the other with the Galactic Empire – you will fly eight types of ships. Your performance also earns you credits to upgrade your ships.

Players can also go online to fight dogfights – “Stay on target!” – in five-versus-us five combat. Even bigger skirmishes take place in fleet battles, which also pit two squadrons of five against each other (online or against AI). Those begin as dogfights but escalate to targeting and taking down flagships (think star destroyers).

The genesis of Star Wars: Squadrons came from the fond memories some of the game’s creative team had for classic PC games such as X-Wing, TIE Fighter and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter. “We were talking about the Star Wars flight games of the ’90s … and why couldn’t we make one of these? It’s been 20 years since we had a Star Wars game focused on being a combat pilot,” said Ian Frazier, creative director for the game’s developer Motive Studios, an Electronic Arts-owned studio in Canada with offices in Montreal and Vancouver. “It’s such a cool experience.”

After designing a prototype of what would become the fleet battle mode, Motive got the go-ahead from EA and Lucasfilm to create a full game. Lucasfilm’s game production team and its art and design teams collaborated on ensuring the game “looks and feels authentically Star Wars when you play in these starships,” said Steve Blank, Lucasfilm’s director of franchise content and strategy.

The Lucasfilm teams also helped Motive find ways to bring some characters from the Star Wars Universe into the story. Early cameos include Admiral Ackbar and Princess Leia. Later, you will encounter Hera Syndulla, a pilot and leader who appeared in the animated “Star Wars Rebels” TV series; Admiral Rae Sloane, an Imperial officer who appeared in the Star Wars Rebels books; and Wedge Antilles, a pilot in several Star Wars films including the most recent one, 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Star Wars: Squadron takes place during a unique time in the saga, Blank says. “What you get when you step into this point on the timeline, you get a little bit more of an even playing field between the New Republic, which is what forms out of the rebellion after the ‘Return of the Jedi,’ and what’s left of the Empire,” he said.

Into VR? You can also play the game in virtual reality on PlayStation VR, SteamVR, Oculus and Vive. And players on various platforms – PS4, Xbox One and PCs – can compete against each other.

Tips for Star Wars: Squadrons success

Don’t skip the story. You may want to jump right into online multiplayer dogfights, but the story will give you some vital training. Ignore the story and you are “going to have holes in what you know about how ships operate,” Frazier said. “For both the learning and for the sake of the story, I really recommend people play that.”

Accept your role. Initially, you are akin to a junior officer, but your skills and role changes as you play the story. “When the game starts you don’t give orders to other pilots, you just do as you’re told,” he said. “As you get further into the story, you get the ability to give squad commands such as ‘Attack that target’.”

This progress is rewarding, Blank says. “As you grow and you become more familiar (with piloting), you feel as though you are that true pilot that is training alongside the squad and growing alongside them,” he said.

Tone back the difficulty. “This is a game where you have to be a pilot,” Frazier said. “You have to really control the ships and divert power to shields and all these thing. It’s a lot to take in initially, so if you find it’s overwhelming change the difficulty. There’s no shame in it.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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