KOTOR II Companion Analysis: Atton Rand
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II.]
As mentioned in the series introduction, as the first humanoid companion to be introduced, and also filling the temporary role of ‘protagonist’ while The Exile is incapacitated for a brief section in Nar Shaddaa provides the option to be more immersed and empathetic towards Atton Rand’s character. He is not just part of the group providing the Exile with information or helping to free him or her, but the only person the player controls while dealing with the Twin Suns bounty huntresses.
It’s characteristic of KOTOR II’s feel that the lovable rogue is in an ugly situation and joking, but as is the case of Nar Shaddaa seeming to be a meaner and more hot blooded ecumenopolis to Coruscant, the joke and the lethality seem a bit higher when Seer’aa and Teer’aa turn from sexually suggestive to murderous. As is hinted early, and fits like a lot of his prestige and character development dialogue really fits on this planet, Atton is not Han Solo making a joke or being savvy to the situation. He was fully prepared to murder these two and not shying from murder lures us in to the realisation ‘murderer’ fits him to the core as whom he his; a particular type of killer and not a jokester, smuggler, or really anything affable whatsoever.
All the amusing jokes, the foolishness, it all fades away. As this torrent of honesty, something we value comes out my exact thoughts were “Whoa. What a monster”. That’s the appeal of RPG writing in particular I think. The moral systems invites a question of what a fall really is, and more than that, when very, very bleak people or ones expected to be a clear evil have redeemable or virtuous characters. It reminds me of the melodrama of plays in early modern England, similar portrayals and questions to my mind. Atton is a Bosola, not so different from a Barabas or Iago. The amusing malcontent hated by his betters, but with a skill and ability and potential to be influenced into something more.
Amusingly, Atton has the regular male appearance of a plain brown haired man without scars or alien features, more normal in his speech, and casually dismissive of divulging personal details like previous starting companion Carth Onasi, despite being such utter opposites in profession and worldview, despite figures who mistrust and dislike the force wielding warlords despite being bound to one of them who held authority as an enemy commander of each respective war they fought. Contrasts and ironies are the bread and butter of both games.
Carth and Atton are alike in terms of their archetype, soldiers and non-Force sensitive, but are tonally likely intentional opposites. Nicky Katt mixes the rough everyman voice of a soldier with furtiveness, the animations lending a lot of reinforcement to hesitancy and paranoia. Atton has a great deal more ease, and much more to hide when you peel it away. Carth takes a deal of back and forth to open up about his wife, son and the tragedy of a commander’s betrayal. Atton worships his commander, the protagonist you play in that previous story. He is more of an everyman, less soldierly; yet devoted to the mixture of Revan’s junta and the very interesting place of being prized by the warlord for the esoteric powers he did not possess. His morality is far more malevolent, and yet his backstory highlights an idea many have wondered about regarding the military and Force wielders. Why would a military man or citizen not follow Revan when many turned-Sith did? Why wouldn’t ‘normal’ people cotton on to the fact that they can – and could even be adept when underestimated- fight these lightsaber wielders who practically assumed the mantle of leadership at a whim and use abilities allowing them to slaughter hundreds of beings themselves?
Atton is someone so twisted, with experiences so unlike the norm it is confusing really to affiliate him with his usual persona and earlier dialogue. And yet, part of the intended sour nature of his character is his primal emotions which we can relate to and sympathise with instinctively more than the monologues of more monastic or ascetic characters. Humour, lust, fear. These things we all know and understand, and while we can try to empathise with something like developing a doomsday weapon; the terror of hurting someone, but at it’s core that running away, turning out of anger against those of power and then fleeing from blind fear of what someone sees in us is something with a lot of emotional weight. Atton was not broken by the Force, his own victory, power or madness. But from those he found himself emotionally invested in, interestingly both Jedi and strangers.
The beginning of his corruption is the political fervour, embracing his talents motivated by the hatred usually used by the Sith to propel dark powers young Atton never demonstrated. And finding a pacifist Jedi, being exposed to the naked truth that the torment he enjoyed soured, that he may have power like her, and lust (or indeed possibly even universal ‘love’ as he uses the word) when seeing her beauty even as he destroyed her broke Atton into something that seemed more affable gunslinger and smuggler, when in fact he is half formed. It’s cruel but worth noting his ‘breaking’ is less like other companions with a set event; because we as player and protagonist break him and our mentor digs into his mind and manipulates him while the choice is present and most take to activate his Force powers.
When someone says a thing so often it cheapens it, and he does this by saying he is a liar. Underneath him is a bedrock of cunning, of cruelty you can wake up or not. Practically, he will be killing as that’s part of the game. There is a lot of power, and a strong feeling of malevolence in a dark side playthrough where you make him essentially like Sion, an enemy. I never expect a foe like that on the big screen, a torturer, a sarcastic, ill humoured, distracting kind of villain would be too much, especially for Disney. But against this, I feel the joke of the other companions treating him like a mule and a fool is tragic, when applied to a neutral or light playthrough. Is it fitting, as it would be for a masochist and a liar to be seen that way? Did perhaps this kind of treatment of being seen as lesser lead him to those decisions, and to such a sadistic hate of basically magical knights when he realised his talents?
A point about the sacrifice of a Jedi is one of the rare non-critical parts about them discussed in II. It also illustrates the virtue of these stories, of morally complex or even quite detestable or evil characters. They do have things to teach. Through understanding, defying them and their view.
It’s the view of the nihilist, of someone utterly disillusioned, broken psychologically. And not even getting into giving him the Force, but worst is his hypocrisy, his hatred for his religious orders with power. Yet without them, given any authority or talent, he uses it for murder out of simple spite and fanaticism. People take his criticism of Jedi and Sith as true, and while it make sense, I would argue he is worse. A code, power, sense of enlightenment or natural enemies did not cause his murderous obsession. Simply distaining non-combatants did.
Atton fulfils the function of the archetypical smuggler and pilot in the darkest story popular Star Wars has -perhaps the Vong are a bit darker but it’s certainly a contender- with that wit, the detachment from the constant political themes, violence and war. Much as T3 is the lightening, loyal droid, Smuggler Atton is the lancer, the pilot. Willing to have a ready opinion and act in the background to keep the ship afloat; or scrape up off the ground after one of several crash landings throughout the story.
True love, an echo of the warped love that defined his breaking and change, a fitting and sad way to die, something that I think shifts depends upon your personal views, and the choices made.
There’s a second layer to the banter and edge of threat with Atton and the ‘Twin Suns’ Seer’aa and Teer’aa , realising who he is. He is much like they are, likely with the depraved lusts. One wonders what he would do if alone facing this situation, but then, alone he would never draw attention to himself facing them.
I like how KOTOR companions are all about those who are broken, and how they can rise again…except this one doesn’t, which adds to the point. The exception proves the rule, in this case. Underappreciated as he is, -although your character may act differently- Atton as we encounter him is in the best days of his life. With more company that he has likely ever known, around either a male friend he is drawn to as companion and leader, or a woman he is deeply in love with.
Insight and information colour a great deal of Atton’s character, in this case interestingly the less you know the more likable he seems. In the present he is a sarcastic, comic, certainly very loyal sort with underappreciated cunning and the street smarts that balanced Han Solo against Leia and Luke in the iconic trilogy. But what lies in his past, and a negativity that eclipsed Kreia can overwhelm a lot of the conclusions about Atton himself. I would argue that this is part of a theme with every character, there is a tonal division between the present circumstances and gameplay with the informed backstory, and that each character ultimately becomes more, more in the moral, -if light- unfettered -if dark- mental and physical sense.
Briefly taking the lead, playing as him. if you don’t know whom he is, then he comes across as quite likeable, which could be the point. Or else the backstory is an optional depth to take. Much discussion of the game concerns the past, but not as much as the “present” creating the payoff.
Rand, the name itself a symbolic and deliberate choice perhaps reflects an ideal of self-serving love, as the author Ayn Rand championed in the heroes and heroines of her stories, or contemplation of pure actualisation and rejection of altruism. Atton acts for the Exile and not for the nebulous masses of the galaxy, and his love concerns himself without that elfishness feeling either dominant or submissive to the attachment, trains identifiable with Rand’s romantic pairings. I feel that this was not a word cheaply thrown in, or a way to parody Objectivism as is the case with Bioshock 1, but an honest appraisal. Such a character is both selfish, amoral, and yet romantic in a clear but confusing sense. I’m not going into an analysis of Objectivism here, but that’s just my thoughts going from amateur studies.
I also quite like how other companions call all of the nonsense. Atton calls her a Sith plainly on the approach, and this is a warming counterpoint much like the companions attacking Darth Traya. I like that. Something I think that distinguishes the Original Trilogy from the Sequels, and the Prequels a shade less is the use of humour to even the story, to not keep constant tension. The forces, disjoined slapstick or subversive ‘throwing the lightsaber’ are fulfilling the same purpose “never tell me the odds”, or “you’re gonna die here you know. Convenient” did. “Someone has to fly the ship” is pretty hilarious, and accurate. Atton’s backstory is virtually a different person; the person travelling with you is probably the most jovial, purpose driven and benevolent he has ever been in his life. Atton may be complicated, but understandably he sees the conniving black robed woman who turned on you all as a Sith, the woman who invaded his mind and sounds evil is evil and needs to be stopped.
While one can get carried away with grey morality, the constant and conscious questioning of the franchise; in universe all the other less manipulative and destructive companions come together on your behalf as much as Kreia chooses to run off for her selfish agenda. They are characters, not pawns to be moved, and there’s the positivity and chivalric idea behind a literal circle of companions going to fight her, with a Light Side or Grey Atton acting as the Sir Dinadan the archetype of the funny and not necessarily most deadly knight knowing the stakes and being afraid but every bit as willing (initially to charge in). This is met with the seriousness and black comedy of Atton simply running when Kreia takes to crushing the companions and coming face first into Sion, his dark counterpart. The heroics are good to watch as much as they are accompanied by the oppressive force of struggle in the story, but rather than the gloom of Malachor V being the intentional misery it is, Atton plays a very important role providing beside HK-47 the only lighthearted or amusing moment on the entire planet.
While not the most colourful, grandiose or possibly even insane companion, Atton Rand is both the needed grounding and snark one is used to from the rest of the franchise, and perhaps one of the most daring side characters Star Wars had. Vile, possessed of hidden depth and a calculation belied by a wit that gives much needed bathos among the cast, Atton is notable for being both typical of the game’s companions, and KOTOR II’s darker take on the everyman. He is denied the redemption expected almost as a given within the usual formulaic narrative; indeed the tragedy of the closest thing to a moral rise is his pitiable death and a declaration of love cut short, where the non-Forceful may not be assured of the ghostly afterlife, and the many soldiers, operatives and conscripts of the galaxy without magic are twisted, corrupted and discarded by the powerful figures and bloated power systems.
Atton Rand is the first by your side, in some ways by dint of his persona easy to miss. But he is an essential companion and the first worth discussion; because his duality, torment and the malleability of his character set the standard for other companions and are arguably the most ‘human’ as voiced by Nicky Katt, an impressive tightrope given Atton is both the everyman and the most chilling assassin perhaps of all of the KOTOR casts, a killer, companion, temporary protagonist, and given your preference: at the climax either a very dark take on the Cowardly Lion at the climax, the saddest sacrifice, or a new Sion spawned to gnaw upon the galaxy as the next iteration of painful murder across the galaxy.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.
Thank you very much for reading, and for following the Companion Series so far. If it interests you; but the choice is entirely yours.