KOTOR II Companion Analysis: HK-47
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II.]
HK-47 is a character that the writing team could clearly allow to play out, fitting entirely within the tone and atmosphere of both games where many others could not. And as with Mandalore, this opportunity was taken to enhance the lore and give HK an agency mostly visible in restored content. It was important enough to factor in a TOR expansion, the character simply too amusing and Kristoffer Tabori too iconic a droid voice actor not to involve wherever possible (it wouldn’t surprise me if they put him in Disney).
However, the inventiveness in HK oddly enough is done subtly through removing him from view, comparing and creating the HK-50 rivalry. While amoral, murderous and unrepentant, by reusing the actor and assets The Exile faces a pretty intimidating recurring enemy. We see what HK-47 is not, how much worse a threat it can be, while at the same time being reminded how deadly he is by dint of his model and characteristics. KOTOR II takes an easy option to re-use the character, but clearly enjoyed the character enough to give him an arc, a place on the galactic stage, fascinating and witty discourses on concepts such as how to defeat Jedi, on what love is, on what art is. And they are quotable and applicable notions.
More than Hanharr or Goto, HK is the best ‘dark side’ example of a pretty morally dark character being likeable and funny at the same time. Precious little, nothing in fact of what he says to you the player/protagonist is untrue or unhelpful. Its barbs are for individuals like Goto who deserve it, scheming and subversive. Its prejudice is assuaged by observing Bao-Dur’s skilful repairs -along with Goto also- showing the merit to a supremacist of those they assume as an ‘other’ and beneath them, Bao-Dur offering the open hand and skill that helps with bonding. It’s scant, and yes, it is predicated upon the idea that individuals make exceptions and like better those of useful value to them. But given the circumstance and sheer staggering lethality and ego of these 11 companions, any bit of co-operation feels earned and entertaining.
HK circles round from being the amusingly sociopathic KOTOR I companion, into bizarrely the most…level-headed…at times? The assassin droid, the murder robot makes the funny recital of the eerie tomb and repeated chanting of “apathy is death”, the prick of bathos in a very dour and serious sequence. He makes things amusing, deflating the tension, or -as is fair to say with a story that takes shots at other pieces of the IP- poke fun for players who may not enjoy or relish a bit of fun made at the KOTOR II story.
The humour of the character is notably relatively lacking in the sequel due to playing to the nature of what a Star Wars story and KOTOR sequel is. On one hand, knowing the character means we are acquainted with their nature. However, with a new protagonist a logical decision is to show this same character ‘meeting’ for the first time. What if the assassin droid is not familiar with you? And, as with the HK-50’s (getting their own entry), the familiar is made more uncomfortable and unsettling. KOTOR II is a less heroic narrative interested in wounding and betrayal rather than creation and discovery. So, this droid isn’t talking to its creator or being introduced for the first time. You are the Exile, given less respect, and treated harshly as you are, the droid unbound and uncompelled to give you respect is much more obvious in its distain, showing more of its ‘true’ nature or general nature compared to whom it seemed like before.
While HK is far less amusing in II, it is far more informative. In a way, I would say more honest. HK is loyal to his master, especially later in the game. But detached from it, and facing someone a little more down to earth and not a hero The Exile experience offers more normal behaviour from characters, an openness to think, and not a cloud of respect.
HK-47’s appearance also hammers in the atmosphere of damage and corrosion, the damage literal and giving a slight colour similarity with the HK-50’s it so despises. The very intriguing but not really followed up (due to being so buried it’s only available through restoration) plot of the factory shows both an idea of radical militaristic freedom, but assimilation at the end of a plot surrounding parent-child rivalry and attempted fratricide. For all the resentment not being hidden by a droid pointing out the cruel nature and assumption around SW’s use of AI, his sadism and that of his successors result in a simple feud.
While scarred on a physical level and broken in his soul, HK most completely recovers and seems to grow in the wider plot with context considered. After all, in this story it’s not damage, but being inhibited from fighting his arch enemies. In hilariously slaughtering them, ridiculing these petty and sadistic knockoffs we all have a laugh and a palate cleansing experience before Malachor V. But also, in an awesome and chilling scene we are shown the power of freedom.
What happens to a character, not a companion when they are free? Free of you, the player, the protagonist, to act as they will? More powerful and healed? Rather than accept in blind or submissive fashion the plight of the pretty harshly treated droids of the galaxy, HK vows to assert its ‘kind’, the HK-51’s a now grown and presumably intellectually improved series gaining autonomy. The catharsis of the game is not tied to morality, or politics, or the space opera or science fiction’s typical messages I don’t need to recount to you. The sheer bloody struggle, ludonnarratively no less -given the sodding difficulty of the factory- are paid of with recovery from trauma. It’s intended to simulate the greatest challenge of modernity, the quest to find freedom. The mind finding a way beyond escape, beyond denial to be itself. To defeat assumptions, programming, dominance from others and the injured mind and truly be free.
It’s an odd thing to be both a cliff-hanger and arguably one of the few satisfying conclusions to KOTOR II; but HK’s finale is exactly that. It repairs its inner wound. HK aids The Exile killing the most dangerous meatbags. It returns in heroic fashion to avenge The Remote, blasts Goto to smithereens. I imagine the writing team chuckled as much coming up with that as I did just writing that plot summary; funnier for being the truth.
HK-47 is gallows humour given meaning, an expositor on virtues coming from the perspective of the violent. It is undoubtedly valuable, and undoubtedly a victor in this dark horse of a story. In the darkest places and unexpected people we find wisdom, direction and aid at times. And in an uncaring, brutal, desperate setting, KOTOR II illustrates through the character another way that player and even person find gifts in keeping an ear to any view that comes from experience, and merit tenacity as an essential quality to possess as much as empathising and respecting trauma suffered by all kinds of intelligent life even as we hope and strive not knowing whether in turn others notice ours.
Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare. 2003.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.
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