KOTOR II Companion Analysis: Hanharr
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II]
An evil Wookie. Such a simple concept, but never repeated. The obvious idea of exposing how insidious a life debt is one thing, but wrapping it around another thing about Wookies which we see in A New Hope. They’re massive, temperamental, and alien. And what if one wasn’t nice? It makes you think of gentle giants, beasts of burden. If one snaps, they’re damn terrifying. Hanharr’s story combines the aesthetics of the familiar alien turned into the uncanny, his fur darker and more unpleasently his speech interposed with lion roars. His urge to psychotically maim and murder is something shared by a serial killer, much as the real animal noises amplify our recognition of threat.
Killing from such a warped perception of love, hunting relentlessly one who shows compassion to you, and loyalty to those using you and harsh to you is such a deliberate turn on traditional reactions, yet identifiable behaviour coming from cycles of abuse that it creates instinctive fear and disgust, as well as an odd curiosity. The anger and strength is not much different to the Sith, any more than the theme of a primate or primate not being so different to us. Combine the terror of a black bear approaching and what it can do to you, the maliciousness of a serial murderer, and the intelligence of a tracker and you have Hanharr.
And you’re given the rare option of either facing this character, or making him your companion.
Self-enslavement and madness are concepts difficult and rarely explored at all, let alone in such an unconventional way. It’s horrifying to hear the roars and read the subtitles of what Hanharr means. But this is the point of the threatening, clearly evil companion. Less coherent in a ludonarrative way, but also emblematic of both madness and the insanity of slavery. The breaking of a mind by chaining is so horrifying because it is real. It speaks to how confinement and dominance are such looming terrors, and such corrupting evils to perform that they affect those around them like a cycle of violence.
It took me until 2022 to see the concept on screen in Book of Boba Fett, but as I would advise in many cases it’s a good idea to read or play from the source of the vast majority of Disney’s inspiration. Hanharr is one of the more unsettling villains in the entire setting, and a harrowing lesson in the nature of madness, slavery, and self-enslavement.
He is right, albeit through an incredibly cynical lens and within a series where the idea was never framed as such. To swear one’s life is servitude. A throw away concept is brought up here as with many other notions, that the writing team wanted to shine a cynical lens on to highlight the potential disaster such a world could create. What if one is culturally obligated to swear servitude they did not wish? It is the bleakest, harshest interpretation of fantasy life bonds I can think of, the polar opposite of the other popular Harry Potter series strangely employing it to bring up the fantasy notion of service to eventually make the audience incredibly uncomfortable at the implications and curse it is to be bound mentally to another.
Hanharr is a counterpart to Mira (literally being part of a binary decision where only one or the other can become the Exile’s companion in a given playthrough), but also to the previous Black Isle Studios Planescape: Torment companion Dak’kon, a character of physical ability useful to the player character, but resentful and spiritually tormented by what is mistakenly believed to be a simple vow of allegiance, which in truth to a character valuing freedom comes to see it as indentured servitude.
His murder and belief in atonement are chains, not just in his current state but also the afterlife. The Dark choice, in a very sad and nihilistic way is oddly a positive one in the present lifetime. In surrendering hope for the afterlife or giving up atonement, he becomes free. His pain is eased as he affirms himself to you. Hanharr is the spiritual successor to both Dak’kon and The Nameless One, and making a final break of hope ease him may be a very dark science-fiction interpretation of Pandora’s Box. The last thing to lose is hope; yet in a story saturated with cynicism and nihilism but despises apathy or despair, the realisation echoes the dual themes of reality continuing and there being nowhere to go but up.
Hanharr is a representation of an oft repeated idea in KOTOR II; that physical strength initially is horrifying. But as one grows, on a meta level literally as one levels up, and they come to mentally unravel and fight enemies with dialogue there is exposure of size and intimidation as false, even weak. Kreia demonstrates this with Hanharr and Sion in exactly the same way at different points of the story; the visual shorthand for this idea present in the frail, one handed woman using the Force to strangle into submission these physically stronger people. By far the most nihilistic and bleak companion, Hanharr is best known for being a darker, out of the way option to choose and for providing ‘the lesson of strength’.
It is telling that the game buries some of its best teachings in a scene where you must kill Mira by choosing him to travel with you, and be offered his power. And in rejecting this power taught the true nature of strength, rejecting strength that is not your own.
Clever as this is; I doubt it is of any solace to the blood maddened Hanharr and those who died at his claws.
Planescape: Torment. Black Isle Studios. 1999.
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].