KOTOR II Companion Analysis: Mandalore
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II.]
Still the best Mandalorian in my view, a hard-bitten companion in two very good games. You owe it to yourself to listen to John Cygan’s excellent voice acting if the fictional warrior culture appeals to you. I can’t sell it enough. If Jon Favreau wants to capitalise on any particular nostalgia and give credit to what really made the Mandalorian’s popular, putting in the Mandalorian, from the games that introduced us to them would be an excellent thing to place alongside Pedro Pascal and the popular modern show.
I enjoy Canderous more than I do Mandalore, but one exists following on from the other. Likeability was not something I think KOTOR II was concerned with, and the transformation is intended to reflect the character transitioning from a person into a combination of figurehead, warlord and king, with such symbolism giving him a more theatrical and somewhat less humorous or affable quality.
Ironically, this echoes if anything the Jedi and Sith cults the Mandalorians have so much animosity towards. In devotion to a belief system, the aspirant self-identifies more with their heritage, monastic culture, and title than even their name. Where the Jedi have their robes, lightsabers, and enforced tranquillity, the Sith have their masks, lightsabers, and physical transformation; the Mandalorians have their armour. And this armour alongside the name ‘Mandalore’ is as symbolically potent and erasing of identity as it is possible to be when a person’s name is literally replaced with a word virtually identical to the name of their group.
As a critical shared theme of each companion is the notion of being ‘broken’, a crack in their living life that has shaken their soul and binds them to The Exile in their quest, in the case of Mandalore the break is not physical. His age, needing to wear the armour would be an expected example. But it’s not true, not for the prowess required and the conviction Mandalore bears.
At heart, loyalty to Revan is pointed out explicitly to have hurt him and be sufficient to bind him to the cause, but really I would argue the break is facing the death of his culture. Not defeat, he faced this fairly well. But the utter loss of culture, of there being none of the ideals standing the test of time. The ultimate defeat, not of him but his ways, absolutely everything that raised and made him being lost so utterly creates a vacuum in his mind and a mental anxiety. In a way, it is similar to those who faced breaking by the Mandalorian wars the culture started, though ironically until the Empire no Jedi or Republican ever faced the erasure of their way of life. It is likely more haunting, though it is taken with admirable stoic defiance and resolve due to the fixation of conflict justifying a dead culture being worthy of its death.
Proving is everything, and Mandalore like his people, his name and his leadership is personified (by choice) by an aging, resolute, stubborn figure. No matter the ridicule, mockery or dismissal, every day is a victory. Every runt, ganger, beast destroyed or sparring match in his outpost is a combination of contest, peril, and celebration. Forcing the ideal of preservation, unknowingly -or more likely idealistically- Mandalore is instilling his non-Mandalorian, but personal qualities into his culture.
This seems personally a little obvious pairing the Mandalorians of KOTOR I who are often raiders and thieves to the point of offending Canderous (who at the time freely admits to murdering innocents) with the in-hindsight relatively peaceful Dxun settlement The Exile finds. In a mad galaxy, those closest to extermination but the most stubborn if anything seem less desperate, a good foil for the well-meaning but impotent Ithorians, demonstrating the game’s theme that for good or ill, power and strength ensure change and the good often fail to offer compensation or even survive without someone giving them strength -and thus taking it from them- or teaching them to find it themselves.
Mandalore benefits like many other companions from being a new face -a completely armoured one this time- that may be welcome to the player with the benefit of their knowledge; but to the player character a complete mystery. As with the first game while being a completely different biome the initial encounter is the same. In a ravaged area, thick with threats (random encounters) this man seems particularly self-possessed, speaking with a different air John Cygan delivers and not one like any other voice actor in Star Wars I can think of. An oft overlooked part of Star Wars that led to its popularity and unique quality is the lived in and crime riddled areas. Mandalore possesses the armour and the appearance identifiable in the Stormtroopers before ‘Mandalorian’ was even a concept. Chronologically however, the man once called Canderous Ordo is really on a visual level the primogenitor for all those T-visor designs and cold, cool professionalism.
“Perhaps there will be no new age, Mandalore, no great Mandalorian crusade. Perhaps your people fought their last battle at Malachor V, and you have been dying ever since, a quiet death that will last centuries. And perhaps all that remains will be what I see before me: a man, wounded by a Jedi, encased in a Mandalorian shell, haunted by the thought of being the last of the Mandalorians.”
We know that in spite of Kreia’s words, the contempt she has, the broken nature of the warlike people who got a taste of extermination from the very Republic and Jedi they started the war with, all of it will lead to eventual survival. The Mandalorians survive, his culture does not die, because the predictions of the future, the assurance of doom, and the threat of a violent galaxy guarantee nothing. Only fortune and the actions of the person and community affect their fate. In the game, with its sense of gloom on Dxun and the weariness present in an older Mandalore’s tone, any future at all is likely one he does not even really see. His attitude to the dying galaxy, for him primarily the notion of a dying culture is met with the attitude of the older, experienced and hands-on individual.
The Mandalore represents mundane utility and the survivalist response to trauma. Seek out a safe locale. Train others to defend themselves. Preserve the traditions by ensuring they are still living. His words are less grandiose, and his philosophy unspoken. Because aside from the player and characters knowing it; the whole point of the Mandalorian ethos is taking physical action and combat so seriously it becomes a society, tribe, practically a religion.
‘Actions speak louder than words’ would be something Mandalore would no doubt espouse. In his case, more a case that deeds last longer than monologues. For all her manipulation, contempt, and the small size of the Mandalorian encampment, from a meta perspective his ‘argument’ or ‘conflict’ within in life is healthier and stronger than the prejudiced Kreia is willing to see. It may be simple, despised and a debatably unhealthy life; but what Mandalorians come out of Dxun last long enough to persist for thousands of years. Not as myths, or traitors, or to fade.
The ‘shell’ of Mandalore during The Ravager battle contributes much of actual, tangible worth. He is a warrior and in your battles his people are steel, orange and blue glad heroes, allies on your side. Of all the companions, he likely has the greatest possible ending and achievement as the pinnacle of his kind, far from broken, purposeless or jaded as they all were and he arguably was even more so in the first game. Condescension comes easily (especially in KOTOR II); but it is worth noting the future in store that Mandalore is making each hellish day eventually gives some semblance of ease or at least no wish to ever need or be overwhelmed by hardship. Kreia will be dead in days, at most weeks with her voice utterly silenced and her name lost to wider history.
Perhaps, in a way it speaks to KOTOR II’s message about practicality and defiance. In being willing to give up comfort and accept pain, the individual rises. In dismissing excuses, frailties, history we achieve a Jungian individuation and our personal change echoes beyond our imagination into friendship groups, then allies, and even wider society. Ideology will not save the galaxy; but guns and a strong set of commandos will.
It’s a pragmatic and pretty ironic message to come from Star Wars, but it does suit the more experimental KOTOR II, and the more exploratory KOTOR I with its sense of urgency. While I doubt the two drew any inspiration from each other I also see similarities in the effectiveness and lesson of the Sardaukar and Fremen from the Dune saga, and the lesson of power and politics being affected by the fanatical and the trained within decadent empires.
It is worth noting that the irony is also why Canderous follows both characters. Mandalorians (or at least this particular Mandalorian) will partner with and follow even previous opponent, possibly not even a warrior. Revan and The Exile were great warriors, and the advantage of an otherwise self-defeating and sadistic culture is that a Mandalorian is as respectful and unified by an enemy as they are kinsmen. Such an adept fighter is worthy of respect.
And there is a practicality; the player character brings enemies. Many enemies, the attention of many armies, and the odds against them. Such a fulcrum for change offers the potential for glory, and a place at the side of such a warrior offers mutual benefit despite very different motivations and desires. Mandalore would not follow a diplomatic mission, or guard a citadel. But he will follow the vengeful Jedi who massacred his own people in righteous or utterly ruthless battle. It happens to coincide that the game requires the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds of enemies. This speaks to a Mandalorian who loves combat, and a scavenger building a small community from what wargear he can find.
Practiced hands make for short work, and experience makes for a character that rounds out others with less martial experience, namely the Jedi so heavily focused upon with completely different focuses and appreciations of weaponry and tools surviving and journeying through the galaxy. In the unique fight and among many Jedi at their most absent and corrupt, as though making an odd balance Mandalore wishes to avoid using grenades against ‘non-combatants’, a clear moral improvement from the younger man who admitted to killing innocents.
Recovery includes pain, and experienced, dented or hardened characters exchange youth or innate ability for a honed or even longer lasting aptitude. This applies to every single companion, and to my mind every KOTOR II character I can think of. Mandalore is an especially visually prominent example of this due to the warrior culture, the voice acting, and the nature of his armour. However, it should be noted that this predominantly in the mind and the character, and to its credit KOTOR II is one of the few stories glorifying physical prowess against those with lightsabers. Not only is it commendable to try; but for all her sneering when it comes down to an army (amusingly even the army that will destroy the Jedi), warriors and soldiers bearing Mandalorian symbols will be present to fight for a cause where Jedi often pontificate and Sith commit senseless atrocities.
I’ve always liked that in-game it seems virtually certain that this little band will die. Culturally so very strange, but practically not all that dissimilar to the Rebel Alliance, as cinema first depicted them hiding in Yavin IV’s jungles. Their Ravager assault is one of the more spectacular assaults in the game’s large-scale battle, even framed to look a little like the opening door cutting invasion from A New Hope. It is aesthetically similar, but thematically nothing like it at all. I highly enjoy the reversal, and the portrayal of the Mandalorian ‘ashes’ at their best, even more courageous as this could easily be their last fight.
Recovery grants one strength. Empathy, especially for the forgotten gives strength, purpose. In a world where great powers catch their breath, the very few, the outlaws and outcasts who learn and piece themselves back together, they in darker times become the heroes and the levers of the galaxy. It’s a potent kind of story I enjoy very much, with a great deal of modern relevance. Applied to an organisation the theme is probably most influential regarding Mandalore. Practically all of KOTOR II is swept away, or of its time. But thanks to Mandalore’s persistence, his brotherhood, order or whatever you care to call it would thrive and last until it was the embodiment of the Republic army, it survived and lived alongside both the EU and Disney eras ideas of the post-Republic and post-Imperial eras. The tenacity of one broken, doubting leader taking the reins of his dying heritage can build millennia of inspiration. That’s a powerful theme for a well-presented character.
In an already large series, this article will be a taste of two series in one. As part of the spoilers, Mandalore is a person players will have ‘seen’ before, although The Exile will not. He is a companion returning; and perhaps one day we will see him in another Companion Series article in the future.
All the best,
Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare. 2003.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.
I would also recommend the Papito Qinn Youtube channel for the extensive KOTOR coverage to be found here: https://www.youtube.com/c/PapitoQinn