KOTOR: It doesn’t get any more Star Wars than this

KOTOR logoIt’s been ten years since the first Knights of the Old Republic game was released and after playing it through again recently for the first time in years?  I can happily report that it still holds up awesomely.  The game is just as enthralling to me now in my early 20s as it was when I was in my teens.  A lot of that has to do with how distinctly Star Wars the game is despite being set thousands of years before anyone named Skywalker was of any relevance to the galaxy.  Obviously it has all the superficial markings of Star Wars like the name, lightsabers and Jedi, spaceships, and such but it’s the overall feel of the epic tale that makes it so very obviously a part of the galaxy far far away.

Let’s take a look at some of what not only make this game pure Star Wars but makes it an excellent example for other stories told within the galaxy.

Note: Obviously one of the neatest things about the game is that you make your own choices through your own character and therefore the game could go any number of ways.  I’m writing this piece assuming a light side Revan which is technically canon.  This piece will also have a heavy bias towards playing with a female Revan which sadly isn’t canon but that’s my preferred storyline so canon can deal for the duration of this piece.

It’s a mission to save the galaxy

While it’s hardly a trope unique to the galaxy far far away, it is one of its pillars.  Your character is just an ordinary person (or so you think) who, through a series of circumstances, has to go on a quest through the galaxy to find pieces of the Star Map to help win the war against the Sith.  Along the way, you pick up a number of companions with whom you build friendships and you also often help others out even if they have nothing to do with your main quest.  At the end of the day, you save the day by defeating the evil Sith leader and destroying the space station that was giving them the edge in battle.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Although a story doesn’t always have to have galactic ramifications to be one where good triumphs, that’s a part of what makes this game so good.  The fate of the galaxy is literally in your hands.  You choose whether to be a good guy or a bad guy and whether or not you’re going to save the Republic or take back the Sith Empire for yourself and rule and galaxy.  Granted, the galaxy sort of falls to pieces five years later anyways but the Ebon Hawk and her crew still saved the day!

It’s a story of redemption

One of the underlying themes of the entire Star Wars saga is that of redemption from the dark side and KOTOR has that in spades.  While it originally was not Revan’s choice to return to the light side, it is her choices that keep her there and that also help redeem others on the journey.  From Juhani on Dantooine to Bastila on the Star Forge to the handful of other minor characters throughout the story, Revan helps them all return to the side of good just like Luke ultimately helped turn Vader back to the light.

It’s a story with a diverse and interesting cast

Artwork from WaysoftheWorld.net. Just look at the diverse crew!

We’ve talked a lot about the need for more diversity on this blog and KOTOR has plenty.  As you travel across the galaxy to find pieces of the Star Map, you’re joined by nine companions of varying genders, races, and species.  Of those nine, three are female, two are droids, and four are male.  While your romance options are with Bastila (a white female human Jedi) and Carth (a white human male)*, the rest of the supporting cast all receive a decent chunk of storyline.  If you rotate your party properly, you’ll receive a side quest related to each of the sentients and you can chat with each one throughout the game, slowly pulling more details of their lives out of them.  Without the supporting cast, it wouldn’t be quite as good of a game and story.

*You can also romance Juhani as female!Revan but KOTOR2 assumes that a female Revan had a relationship with Carth.

Two of the first people to join your merry band of galaxy savers are Mission Vao (a young twi’lek girl) and Zaalbar (her Wookiee best friend).  Mission is resourceful and can help you get out of some tight situations while Zaalbar is an exile from Kashyyyk for standing up to his brother for selling their people into slavery.  Juhani is a Cathar who stumbled off the light side path but is trying to defeat her anger.  Canderous Ordo is the Mandalorian muscle who tells you the best war stories if you ask while also occasionally offering some snarky commentary.  (I’m fairly sure he’s also responsible for me loving Mandalorians as much as I do.)  HK-47 is the assassin droid built by Revan who is unintentionally hilarious and leaves you wanting to call everyone a meatbag.  And then there’s Jolee who is a dark skinned older man who left the Jedi Order before being Knighted.  He suspects your true identity and comes along to see if he can help you stay on the right path while telling you hilariously long-winded stories. Okay so maybe T3 is the only one you don’t really get to know much about seeing how he communicates only in beeps but hey!  He’s the best for opening security doors!

To top it off, you routinely see lots of aliens and plenty of humans of different races throughout the game.  One of the best examples of this is Admiral Dodonna, head of the Republic Fleet.  Guess what?  She’s a woman!  Throughout the game, there tends to be a nice variety of aliens, humans, and skin colors amongst the minor and background characters.  Is it an absolute rainbow?  No, but it certainly puts in a solid effort.

As a side note, I actually think that Revan’s story is even better when you play as a woman because it goes completely against your expectations.  Although the writers were very careful to never use gender pronouns in reference to Revan, the automatic assumption is that the Dark Lord of the Sith was male.  It plays with your gender expectations and makes the reveal that much cooler especially if you missed half the foreshadowing during the first part of the game.

This was all just a very long-winded way of saying that the writers and designers did a great job of making this part of the galaxy as diverse as it should be.

It’s a story where the contributions of your entire party are valued

Building off the above, this isn’t a story where only the Jedi can contribute positively to your goal.  Party members like Carth and Canderous and Mission are just as vital as Bastila and Jolee and Juhani.  In fact, there are quests that you wouldn’t even be able to complete without the aid of one of the droids.  While Bastila does make comments that insinuate she’s a believer in Jedi superiority when it comes to getting things done, the game never gives you that overall message.  There are actually times where you’re hit with Dark Side points for using Force Persuade to get someone to do things your way.

Plus, you are only occasionally forced to take any specific companions with you.  What two companions accompany you for the other 85% or so of the game are completely up to you.  My personal preference has always been one Jedi and one ranged shooter because hey! The more Jedi, the more people who can use healing powers but a player is certainly capable of saving the galaxy with only Canderous and HK at her side for the majority game.

It has a sense of humor

Star Wars was never meant to be all gloom and darkness.  While the weight of the galaxy is certainly always on our heroes’ shoulders, there were moments of levity scattered throughout and lines that just make us smile and laugh.  My personal favorites include having the option to say “You were born out of the loop, Carth”, HK-47’s “Exclamation: Damn it, Master! I am an assassination droid, not a dictionary!”, your sarcastic reply to Bastila’s query about where you’re from “Kashyyyk. I’m a Wookiee, can’t you tell?”, and basically every other thing out of Jolee Bindo’s mouth.  It’s not giggles all the time but it helps the game remain fun throughout and never depressing.

It’s just a damn good story

Strong words perhaps but it’s true which is one of the reasons why, if they’re going to adapt something for a spinoff film, I think KOTOR would be an excellent choice. Regardless of that, it’s just good storytelling for all the reasons I’ve listed above and more.  I think that one of the best things KOTOR does is provide an awesome example of how to tell a compelling Star Wars story that uses so many elements of what made the films great without making it an exact copy.  It tells its own story with its own characters and just all around knocks it out of the park.

9 thoughts on “KOTOR: It doesn’t get any more Star Wars than this

  1. Thank you--so much--for writing this, Bria. The movies got my attention, but KotOR kept me. It was my gateway drug to the Expanded Universe. And computer RPGs. Without it, I probably wouldn't even be reading this site. Talk about Star Wars perfected....

  2. KOTOR was everything I could have ever wanted. I loved playing something that was so quintessentially Star Wars and yet, it felt like it was such a unique experience, because I was able to shape it, by choosing who I was, what I said, and what I did. Perfection.

  3. Kotor was fantastic and the sequel was more riveting to me personally but it crafted the concept so it should rank above it.

  4. KOTOR is the best game ever, and I wholeheartedly agree that female!Revan makes the story so much better. There's more story options as a woman: Carth and Juhani, the alternate ending (last minute conversion option, see YouTube)... Plus, I like Carth, and Bastila can be kind of sanctimonious. Revan, (former) Dark Lord of the Sith, is a woman, and I maintain that the records (canon) are damaged. Bunch of organic meatbags.

    • Records damaged? Head canon accepted! (Also, needling Bastila is totally one of my favourite in game pastimes. She's just so easy to get a rise out of.)

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