Sunday, July 4, 2010

3956 BBY: Knights of the Old Republic

This post was a long time in the making, and was the greatest obstacle I had to face for the continuance of the Star Wars Chronology Project. I know I have made many references to my status within the KOTOR video game since the beginning of the year, but I have finally done it. I have played and finished the Knights of the Old Republic video game.

In my very first post on this blog, I made reference to the “monumental nature” of my undertaking, and now that I am on the opposite side of having completed KOTOR, I feel my words were apt. My task truly is monumental. 48 hours of video game playtime to some people may be a drop in a bucket, but to me, those 48 hours represent the idea that, yes, I can obtain my PhD in Star Wars-ology, and read, watch, listen to, and play every piece of Star Wars media ever produced, and do so in the chronological order of events contained within the Star Wars universe (or almost chronologically anyway).

By finishing KOTOR, I have demonstrated to myself that I AM going to finish this project, and there WILL BE a date in the future where I’ll have studied everything Star Wars.

I have always believed that this project was for real, but now I know it.

So with my own back-patting out of the way, I want to begin my musings on KOTOR with the writing s of Abel G. Pena.

In an essay titled Video Games and Star Wars Continuity, which can be found here, Pena investigates the question, ‘do the events contained within Star Wars video games count towards a comprehensive Star Wars continuity?’ And the answer he provides his reader is “yes!” To quote Pena’s words: “Here we discuss an eccentric part of the Star Wars canon, the videogames produced by LucasArts. Though frequently overlooked in the past, videogames have been borrowing elements from and contributing characters to the Star Wars Expanded Universe mythology overwhelmingly shaped by novels and comics with greater and greater consistency. For fans, and writers, this has proved to have its advantages, and its disadvantages.” Pena goes on in this essay to discuss those advantages and disadvantages, but to be honest I found this essay extremely amusing and rather quaint, which begs the question ‘why am I referencing it here?” The reason I’m quoting from Pena’s essay, is to demonstrate just how much of a gamer-changer the KOTOR video game was.

I’m not sure when Pena wrote this essay, but it must have been sometime after KOTOR, because he found that the question of Star Wars video games affecting continuity and canon relevant, as in, there was a time when video games did not contribute to the larger Star Wars story – or at least no one thought they did. In this essay Pena even refers to video games as “that eccentric part of Star Wars canon”. Well, circa, 2010, they are not so eccentric any longer. And KOTOR, so full of story and correct historical Star Wars events, changed the way we integrated video games into the larger Star Wars canon. As Pena says: “Other fans, however, complain that sweeping galactic events such as those in the Knights of the Old Republic games should not be relegated to as inaccessible and unconventional a “literary” source as a videogame”. Basically saying, the events of KOTOR are too important to ignore, they must necessarily be included into Star Wars canon, even though the telling of this tale was not found in a book. In a post Knights of the Old Republic Star Wars universe, the question of video games contributing to a comprehensive continuity was no longer a question. It was obvious that this one did, and future games would as well.

Video games have come a long way, and when I began this project, the thought of not including them never once entered my mind. I would argue that it is now expected that video games have an effect on Star Wars continuity, and that fans expect video games (to a certain extent) properly follow Star Wars continuity. Indeed, Pena was a Star Wars fanboy ahead of his time.

Moving on, Knights of the Old Republic was an epic struggle of good vs. evil. It was a choose your own adventure come to life, and one of the most fun video games I’ve ever played.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to give my reflections on each part of the game, beginning with Taris, then Dantooine, Tatooine, Kashyyyk, Manaan, Leviathan, Korriban, the Unknown Region, and finally the Star Forge.

Taris was a much longer level than I would have liked it to be. To be honest, I must have stopped the game three or four times while in the Taris phase, feeling like I’d never be able to get off that stupid planet, with its Sith quarantine and hatred of alien races. Eventually though, I managed to make it off Taris, only to come to a cut scene where the entire planet was destroyed by Darth Malak. After watching the cinematic action of Taris being destroyed, something strange came over me; I felt an actual pang of sadness watching the planet burn. Silly thoughts entered my head: ‘What about the lady that sells the droids?’ ‘what about that dude who could never win a dueling match’ What about that racist guy on the street corner? Are they all dead too? Man, that Malak is an A-hole!

It’s funny, because Drew Karpyshyn, one of the developers of the new Old Republic MMO, and one of the lead writers on this game, said of that episode in KOTOR on the developer dispatch ‘Returning to Taris’: “we really needed an impactful moment from the main villain of the game” Well, mission accomplished Drew. I really did come to love the planet Taris, in all its quirky uniqueness. I was happy to be done with Taris though, and moving on to Dantooine.

At the Dantooine stage I was still playing off and on, and I had yet to find a rhythm playing the game. Short bursts of playtime were interrupted by long episodes of real life. I was looking forward to Dantooine though, because of my time on that planet playing Star Wars Galaxies. Galaxies developed Dantooine a little differently that what was found in KOTOR, but for the most part the planet seemed very familiar to me. I had spent many hours killing Jantas on Dantooine in SWG. Old school players of SWG will know exactly what I mean.

My favorite part of Dantooine besides is familiarity, was the bit of meta-text offered by one of the NPCs, Desser. Upon stepping off the Ebon Hawk in Dantooine’s docking bay, you are met by Desser, who tells you about ‘The Great Hunt’, and then begins to tell the story of Shadows and Light, which took place 37 years prior. Shadows and Light tells the story of three Jedi Knights who were sent by the council to exterminate the Terentatek. My reactions to that story can be found here. I also enjoyed how you were able to find the journals of Duron Qel-droma, Shaela Nuur, and Guun Han Saresh within the game, and find some of their equipment. Most of all though, was that I was able to make sense of one of the final boxes in the comic: Revan standing over the body of Malak.

I also enjoyed interacting with Master Vandar, and some of the members of the Jedi council. I am beginning to believe that dealing with the story of Star Wars in its chronological order does have something to offer a devoted fan (a question I had asked in one of my earlier posts). What that “something” is I have yet to clarify and articulate in my own mind, but there is “something” to engaging with Star Wars from its beginnings, and eventually, to its end. I liked the feeling of being knowledgeable about the story Shadows and Light, and knowing, in more than a passing manner, what Desser was talking about.

If Dantooine was familiar to me, Tatooine felt even more familiar. At this point in the game I was feeling much more like I was part of something epic. The cut-away movie scenes of Malak hunting Bastila gave me a sense that I was part of something big. Like Dantooine, I also remember Tatooine from my days as a player on SWG. Anchorhead was a familiar landmark for me, but not somewhere I frequented. I do remember getting my first taste of player vs. player combat in Anchorhead though. And I do remember hunting down a Jedi in Anchorhead, and engaging in an epic one on one duel with him. It started in the cantina, and eventually wound its way out into the dessert.

I completed all the quests on Tatooine, and then made off for Kashyyyk.

I think Kashyyyk was the most entertaining level for me. What struck me most about Kashyyyk were the sounds of wildlife. KOTOR was made in 2003, and the Kashyyyk expansion for SWG debuted in 2005. The devs at SWG made sure to properly emulate the sounds of Kashyyyk from KOTOR, because when I was exploring the lower level of Kaskyyyk’s forests, I thought I was back on my bounty hunter again, tracking down AFK Jedi, leveling up their force-sensitive characters.

Any old bounty hunter from SWG will remember the days of AFK Jedi on Kashyyyk’s forest floor, as any AKK Jedi will remember some griefing scoundrel bounty hunter killing their characters while they sat in another room preparing themselves a sandwich. I could very well get into a rant about how terribly designed yet ridiculously fun to play SWG was – and I will when I get to the SWG novel the Ruins of Dantooine. I already have the majority of that post written in my head. As it is – the sound effects of Kashyyyk brought me back to my days as an intergalactic hunter of Jedi.

When I watched the cinematic cut scene of the Ebon Hawk leaving Kashyyyk I did so with a bit of a heavy heart. As I said earlier, I found myself really getting pulled into the story of KOTOR. As I went to Manaan the next cut scene introduced me to Darth Malak’s apprentice Darth Bandon, and I must admit I found his introduction quite intimidating. It was a well done piece of story done by the devs at Bioware.

Manaan itself was interesting but the storylines there didn’t really pull me in. What I found most interesting about Manaan was the expansion of the storylines of Canderous and Juhani. Canderous mentions Revan killing Mandalore, which caught me a little off-guard, as I think this bit of history has not been mentioned in Star Wars chronology to date. I wonder if it has been presented in some other Star Wars source text. I also found Juhani’s mention of the Exchange interesting, as this storyline was a major part of the KOTOR comic series.

Upon leaving Manaan, the Ebon Hawk was pulled to the Leviathan, Saul Karath’s ship, and Carth’s old commanding officer. This level was fun to play, and revealed for me the most significant plot twist in the game.


This honestly caught me by surprise. You’d think that even though this game has been out for seven years, and the fact that I’m a fan of all things Star Wars, I would have at least heard of this or seen it coming – but I didn’t – which I totally loved. Before the first confrontation with Malak I paused the game and yelled upstairs to my wife “I’M DARTH REVAN!!!” There was no response, so I can only assume she rolled her eyes at me and kept on doing whatever it was she was doing.

I want to pause for a moment and talk about this scene and continuity.
Firstly, I now understand why Darth Revan’s face has never been shown in other Star Wars sources, including the source Timeline #8 which I examined before this post, and why he is usually shown with a bit of a lithe body – neither too masculine nor too feminine. With that being said though, timeline #8 clearly presents Darth Revan as a male figure, although his face is never shown. This new revelation bothered me somewhat, as now my own personal Star Wars worldview was now in conflict with the official history – allow me to explain.

Many months ago, when I began playing KOTOR, I made a vain attempt to pull my wife into the game and the first character I created was a female avatar for her to use. I thought I could get my wife to play game while I sat next to her and coached her thought. It was a husband’s attempt to pull his wife into the things that he likes. On retrospect I realize how foolish this was. My wife would never sit down and put 48 hours into a video game with me “coaching” her through. She has her own hobbies and interests. We did try it for nearly an hour though. She quickly lost interest and moved on to her own things. I was now one hour into the game with a female avatar, so I continued on with her for the sake of time. I never play a female avatar when I play a video game because I’m a male and I want to identify with my character.

So now my Star Wars worldview consists of Darth Revan as a woman, while the canonized version does not. My understanding of Star Wars history is now heretical. I understand the dev’s motivation for giving the players choice at character creation, and we could dabble with the idea that the gender of Revan is not important, but I think that that’s just politically correct rationalization. I think Revan’s gender is important, and I think if the canonized view later down the road would be Revan as a man, then strictly males avatars should have been the only option at character creation. But ultimately I don’t think the devs at Bioware would think down the line Revan’s gender would be canonized, even if it’s in a ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ manner.

I understand why the canonized portrayal of Revan would be male. It is mostly males who play video games, and males mostly chose male avatars. Therefore, it makes sense that Darth Revan would be a male, as this is the most common worldview held by those whose interest in Star Wars history is at stake. In truth, I want Darth Revan to be a male. However, I do think the idea of Darth Revan as a woman is more interesting.

This makes the Revan/Bastila storyline take on a whole new twist. If Darth Revan is a female, then Bastila’s relationship and feelings for Revan are now categorized as homosexual in nature. I’m referring here to the line in the KOTOR sourcebook: …”that Bastila would fall in love with Revan…” (pg 137). In defense of the devs at Bioware, the romantic relationship with Bastila as a female avatar was not an option.

I’m sure this view of Star Wars history would not sit well with most fans, but you never know. Maybe this worldview of Star Wars is a little more interesting that the accepted canonized view.
Moving on to Korriban, I thought the interaction of Master Uthar from the Sith academy and my character quite amusing. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I really do think that the Sith philosophy is basically the same philosophy we hold in secular western society. It is basically the worship of the secular over the sacred: climb to the top at any cost, and hold in contempt anything which begins to respect power outside of the individual.

Korriban was a fun level, and the scenery was cool. I especially liked the conversation I had with Ajunta Pall, and exploring the tombs of former darkside masters.

From Korriban I made my way to the Unknown Regions, which was a visually beautiful level. There was a lookout from a cliff top on the first level which provided a stunning view of the ocean and a fallen Republic cruiser. I got through this level with relative ease, and then made my way to the Star Forge. I was surprised at how susceptible to force powers Bastila Shan was in our fight, and I defeated her handedly.

The Star Forge was by far the hardest level of the game, and I had to take my time wading through the endless amount of enemies thrown my way. Needless to say, I eventually made my way to Darth Malak, only to die several times in my final boss fight with him. I eventually clued in to throwing my lightsaber to defeat him, and release the Jedi captives, and after I had figured that much out, I beat him with ease.

The final cinematics of the game were awesome. My favorite part was the Star Wars orchestral fanfare at the very end, which made me feel like a hero.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing KOTOR, and I’m glad I stuck with it and completed the game.
I’m also looking forward to moving ahead in the project. For my next post I’ll be examining the 6 page comic Unseen, Unheard, found in Star Wars Tales volume 6. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you finished the game and enjoyed it! From what I hear, it shouldn't take as long to play through KOTOR 2, since it's a shorter game.