KOTOR II Companion Analysis: The Handmaiden
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II.]
As with The Exile, The Disciple, The Twin Suns; many characters are named by their role or given a cognomen rather than a straightforward name, many due to circumstance also as is the case with Canderous being Mandalore. Brianna is interesting in the sense of being a positive reinterpretation of the then recent Phantom Menace. A handmaiden is a prominent role surrounding female characters, but this concept is applied in an original and interesting manner. Not a decoy, elaborately dressed or made to be uniform, Brianna is the one (supposedly) visually different to her sisters. Her combat prowess is uncommon for the setting, not just non-Forceful (magic/lightsabers) but martial art.
Her observations of combat make her a good foil in addition to her innocence, Brianna not being naïve as none of the KOTOR II companions are naïve. Her observation about Atton Rand’s combat abilities are one of my favourite teases in the game. It’s not a pairing we expect to see, the opposite genders/experiences/dress suspicious of one another make one wonder about Atton, it’s a clever hint of something, but not nearly the thing we ultimately learn about his combat prowess and the cause of it.
The use of the Echani adds worldbuilding and originality to the story and series, but also offers unique perspective and more vitality to the cast as the notion of non-Force abilities and martial art provides dialogue and gameplay options. One of the discussions between The Handmaiden Brianna and Atton Rand in particular is fascinating, a mixture of banter, detective speculation, and backstory foreshadowing. It highlights the freshness of each companion when they speak or argue with another. They are clearly cut from different cloth, with abilities and experiences that offer a lot of insight into psychology and nature. In a game where the writing justifies the growth of a character levelling up their stats in tandem with the recovery of their mind and powers, a combat specialist fulfils the requirements of something like Wuxia cinema, even the real life niche wisdom of many boxing, kickboxing, or MMA coaches.
There is a wealth of lessons applicable to all life that comes with strenuous exercise, a real life companion to the monastic lifestyle; importantly an asset to someone not solely waving around a lightsaber. KOTOR II challenges the assumption of Jedi/Sith superiority at every turn, and Brianna has a role in being educated and curious, but also informative by not repeating a formula of a condescending, older individual. Her placement of youth as possibly one of the younger characters keeps the cast as diverse in an intriguing way, where men and women of various ages are joined by The Exile who learns much from them. Observation of The Exile gives comfort to Brianna, it humbles her when they contest each other and she encounters one of the few Jedi (or former Jedi) willing to meet her on her own terms. One who listens, trains, engages advances in their prowess. But willingness to approach something utterly different is established to be transformative and good.
‘The servant of Atris’ is subjected to prejudice from her sisters, from whom is likely her own mother. And while her passion and tendency to argue with Visas interestingly puts the Light’ character as more unreasonable than the Dark on account of arguing over a Male Exile’s affections, this arises from The Exile being possibly (if the character decides to be) the only character to afford Brianna respect as an individual, they are certainly the only individual whom allows them to test their martial skills and explore the galaxy.
There is a fascinating opportunity to discuss the nature of oaths and avoid the Jedi/Sith binary by Kreia debating the promise ‘not to teach her the ways of the Jedi’. But what of the Sith? What of the Force, of the power or wider enlightenment or spiritual powers unrelated to the two monopolising ideologies within this universe (a great choice KOTOR II does is actively bring up items possessed by alternate Force Sensitive Orders such as the Baran Do Sages, highlighting that less than Red/Blue both sects are two choices of many). The Handmaiden, in her personal quest with you discovering among other things her true name is opened to her own potential by travelling with you. The exploration of the galaxy mirrors discovery of the self. It is a mythic cycle repeated often in this franchise, within fiction, to me within life itself when I consider personal experiences.
Brianna embodies this theme perhaps the most clearly of all the companions, like The Disciple but clearly the more original and engaging of the two, due to this outlook not being too straight-arrow or obviously naïve, rather an aggressive person facing the assumption of moral superiority and trying hard to genuinely curb that habit, as much as address an inferiority complex and sense of otherness caused by ostracization which in truth is something all others around her on the ship share. The few who are not actively traitorous and murderous may not be warm and friendly, but they are at least honest, less insulting, less abusive than those who confined her, sent her away, and hypocritically grew angry at her bearing an unwinnable task.
An aesthetic match to Atris, yet a moral parallel is her stark white attire. Fittingly one of the quest items is her father’s cloak, fitting the meld of Echani descent and martial culture with the ways of the Force. Most interestingly, perhaps amusingly of a shared intelligent discussion is The Exile and Kreia debating their navigation of the oath and decision to train Brianna, who is less and less defined as a servant to a hypocrite, and a woman in her own right. It can be a betrayal, a genuine difference if one sees the obvious point that the Jedi way is not the only way, the decision is open ended and subject to the players whims; even not to progress in such a way if chosen. But these gameplay decisions highlight the nature of character, raising the band of the Ebon Hawk is clearly in the right compared to the Telos compound. The more one listens the clearer it is, that the bigoted sisters and their fallen master are utterly hollow, needing to wear white, speak of their superiority, and ultimately do what all fanatics, hypocrites and demagogues do; use force to compel when they cannot do so by verbal abuse. They also meet the fate of such, being outfought and undone by one of their own number.
By the mid-point of her journey and unto its end, Brianna cannot be called The Handmaiden in her heart, either evolving into a Dark Side warrior with her aggression suited to personal freedom and martial superiority, or a moral guardian and defender in truth, passing beyond her sisters. Rather than presuming or affecting to be the companion bodyguard of a great academic and leader, even as an unknown she sees and can be of service to people in the wide galaxy, not stilled and stunted by apathy, isolation, and the corruption that can find roots there.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.