KOTOR II Companion Analysis: Bao-Dur
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II.]
The most enigmatic companion with much to write about; although little is said.
As far as understated characters, as well as those missing the largest amount of content and what may have been I would say only Mira has more missed opportunities; although I will say the mystery and Roger Guenveur Smith’s delivery provide sufficient characterisation and Bao-Dur does have one of the most potent lines in the entire story. It befits his role as a listener and not a speaker, a follower and soldier of ruthless intelligence that undermines Kreia’s sanctimoniousness and appearance of omniscience:
“Your command echoes still, General. And I obey, as I did at Malachor”.
Bao-Dur not only fools Kreia (speaking dismissively of him as an alien) utterly, but his direct address plays its part in reminding The Exile who they are and that they are not alone in their influence. The past must be met and the future charted, but Bao-Dur reminds protagonist and player of their decisions without insulting them as Atris does, or as part of a scheme. The man is loyal and absolute, unknown in lines of dialogue but certainly a known quality.
The good right hand, the consigliere is a character not given the fame it may deserve or much attention, but for many great leaders and in many bands of characters the role is very important for an effective group. And a fact that affects everything about him is that this being has by far the highest number of casualties on his hands. The architect of the Mass Shadow Generator. As well as the debate about Sith and Jedi, Mandalorian and Republic; this figure bent his mind to a true ‘technological terror’ with a possibly even more discomforting devastation than the titular Death Star.
His weapon did not blow up a world. It strangled it, twisted it, wreathed it in sickly energy and bathed it and any Forceful being around it in utter silence.
His voice acting is unique. The conveyance of anger in a softer whisper is brilliant, something one reads about by I’ve never heard since. Praise should be given more to Roger Guenveur Smith, as the most underrated actor of an underrated game. The not quite hissing, smoky quality of the line delivery speaks to an introspective, but also detached soul. Like the others it is a perfectly acceptable, surface level individual who can speak and be part of a group. But from a look, from any longer interaction it’s clear the companion lives alone, a unique figure with burdens and powers suited to a reckless and desperate quest.
It is interesting, the whispery husk of Smith’s voice distinct, almost unsettling because it possesses no malice there. It’s the opposite effect of hearing a ‘villain’ talk for comedy about mundane or affectionate tasks, this low-voiced horned humanoid possesses no deviousness even if you do push him to evil, certainly none towards you. Much of the discomfort, even horror elements of KOTOR II stem from a strange bedrock of plateau of suffering and cynicism, that you can become a monster surrounded by monsters, a rather grey character, or even a tranquil Light Side warrior around clearly quite morally dark characters and intimidating figures that will never turn on you or hurt you due to strength and loyalty. While no doubt having some sardonic comment or argument, characters like Bao-Dur are a repudiation of Kreia’s bleak world view, and aside from their fractious and aggressive nature no wonder she would separate herself from a group that would not fail her judgement as a group of individuals who inevitably would break due to betrayal or primal urges.
His untattooed appearance is both austere but more ‘normal’, and the inking when dark side distinct and unsettling like his voice and history. It’s a clever subversion of Darth Maul, in that a quiet Zabrak (his species) is more unsettling, in being less obviously haunting.
Bao-Dur’s present self, possibly broken but impossible to tell is clearly physically so given the additional mystery of his missing arm. On the quest he possesses the unique energy-based technology of an augmetic, he speaks softly and generally distains things like violence or the warrior dominance of the Mandalorian culture. However this is in the same breath one of the most deadly military engineers to have ever lived, with enough of that in his perception that he always calls The Exile ‘General’. Military rank, a constant reminder of violent association but simultaneously of hierarchy.
Similarly to Atton in the past, Bao-Dur undoubtedly felt despite not feeling the Force a devotion to The Exile personally; a respect lacking in most of the galaxy at large if they even know whom they are. His awareness makes him cold, or seem so as those with a trained discipline make us question or feel naturally unsettled. There is the risk of what a person could be when unfettered, and just as the ‘natural’ default Bao-Dur speaking of restoration or regret is sympathetic, hearing him angry is easily as intimidating as the guttural harshness of Sion or the screams of Nihilius. Because, like Kreia to be unbalanced is much more terrifying, all that potential and cultivated concentration being a veneer or ineffective scares us much as chaos or murder does on a primal level.
Another notable thing Bao-Dur does is encourage The Exile to build a new lightsaber, melding his role as an advisor, a character known to understand and be a part of The Exile’s history, and use technology for compassionate ends. As Kreia reminds The Exile they need not follow or do as the Jedi would as part of her esoteric training, Bao-Dur does the same regarding the sword. And for the meta reason of player choice as well as character choice; the lightsaber not being aligned to anything much as a sword is wielded by both the hero and villain, or anything in between.
Technology is Bao-Dur’s realm, and the evident genius for it being on both the small aesthetic level (his unique arm) and the gigantic scale of the very weapon that obliterated Malachor V. It is notable that Bao-Dur is the means to follow a motif Star Wars follows religiously as much as lightsabers and ‘Jedi Knight’; obsession with the mechanical superweapon. At the forefront of this was A New Hope, Vader expressly making clear his distain for ‘technological’ terror next to the power of life, esoteric energy and the ability to affect and harmonise nature (The Force).
Bao-Dur is the architect of the superweapon not even KOTOR II’s cynical deconstruction can evade; however and on a very interesting level his personality and use of technology is different for its empathetic nature. Bao-Dur’s remote is the clearest example of this, a combination of pet and friend. He freely offers repairs to the sentient machines, even they with their discriminatory views and mechanical supremacist attitudes praise and thank him for his upgrade and repair skills.
Like his soft voice, the ability to help, and to be a proficient mechanic in a world dominated in-story by magicians, rebel leaders and politicians gives him a unique flavour, like an odd note. Because, oddly enough he would fit in well with the average, less dark Star Wars story. His passivity is reminiscent of ‘harmonious’ characters for lack of a better word, like Jedi such as Jolee Bindo. The darkness is there, showing itself in its own garish way should you follow the Dark Side route and that echo in altering his physical appearance. But Bao-Dur is discordant, like the ‘white sheep’ surrounded by a flock of black ones unless you expose a rare moment of hatred he possesses for the Mandalorians. Politics, loss, or personal harm are not what break him or expose his primal depravity so much as hurting the innocent, what caused him to create such an awful weapon was an insensate hatred not for what was done to him, but would continue to happen to others.
Writing a conclusion to Bao Dur’s story feels difficult, due to suffering from the unfinished product. There’s been speculation as to his intended fate, but really I feel it’s a case where more so than even Mira, it’s best to think of the journey and character than an ultimately unsatisfactory ending. Unlike Hanharr having some last Dark Side Exile sacrifice (a twisted and noble end befitting an evil character with the glimmers of virtue to pose a challenge to us contemplating the nature and actions of people), Bao Dur’s remote is the extension of self-sacrifice he personally is not. He seems to have been aware, as does the remote in its rather heroic (if gameplay wise possibly infuriating) level moment of going through the worst and most malevolent place in the end game to be destroyed.
It is hard to form definitive judgments, due to the character firmly locking entries out and routes of speculation. It’s a fascinating contradiction and such a good moment being the only aware and honest person to The Exile reading his mind, and we are left with raw connection and understanding literally no other beings in the galaxy possess. He is both enigmatic and off-putting, as well as undoubtedly loyal. And he stands out as a scary looking but well-intended virtue being the only character who serves the most from simple loyalty, not out of passion, due to compulsion or charisma or anything external ‘echoing out’. A fascinating character for being so decidedly opaque.
Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare. 2003.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.