KOTOR II Companion Analysis: Kreia II.
“To believe in an ideal, is to be willing to betray it.”
Much is made of Kreia’s quote about betrayal, an interesting consideration of the nature of truly following ideals: “The galaxy needs its betrayers, especially in the times to come.”
While something auguring a dark time and worse to come (applicable both in-setting, and also to the modern age more with each passing year of confinement and rising ideological and societal reflection) it is worth mentioning on the subject of betrayal Kreia chose to become its avatar. The very worst of her nature, her most murderous and nihilistic persona stems from it, the rather blunt ‘Darth Traya’ moniker with the monochromatic change to stark white skin and milky eyes turned to ink.
She is not to be trusted, and like the Sith do, in their most self-sabotaging and villainous manner find ways to undermine their own supporters, lose the battle of charisma and invite every single being besides themselves to wish them harm. And, as perhaps dying she would agree, like many characters who lost their honour, ideals or compassion in civil war and abandonment, she arguably never really lived without failing herself.
As a Jedi Kreia compares herself to Atris, an interesting observation as such an interesting teacher being reminiscent of a narrow-minded puritan hypocrite seems bizarre, other than the shared arrogance and condescension they share. Her fall contains the mistake almost all Sith seem to make, (all KOTOR II characters too which is worth noting) with a character determined to criticise the binary obsession between Sith and Jedi. She could have chose another way. She had the power, and did nothing with it. Her experience does not arguably contain more pain than other companions, but certainly the most bitterness and self-loathing. With only perhaps Atton as competition, Kreia became so desperate she wilfully shattered her own identity and allows her own limb to be amputated as a gesture, indicative of severe mental illness, but not what I consider a death wish. Her choice of inflicting pain is close to sadism, but what I believe is an addictive quality rewarded by morality and harm literally augmenting a character in their world. It’s a slightly less visceral and ingenious, but very inventive adaptation of the teachings of Ignis from Planescape Torment; self-harm in the extreme is horrifyingly an informative process, a horror that forces the onlooker to avoid their own harm, but anchored to an individual both devoted to and manipulating them.
“What do you wish to hear, that I once believe in the code of the Jedi? That I felt the call of the Sith? That perhaps once I held the galaxy by its throat? That for every good work I did I brought equal harm upon the galaxy? That perhaps what the greatest of the Sith Lords knew of evil, they learned from me?”
Kreia’s wider contribution to the galaxy is training murderers, even The Exile. Beyond the meta level to the player audience even her grand plots seemingly failed, as cycles and factions continued in a way as though KOTOR II never mattered. It may be that it was an understated and mundane story, with more to it as many would argue on a an analytical and critical level. But in the grand scheme of things it is important to see the companion Kreia as fundamentally a kind of ‘failed sage’. A great teacher, who placed ideological questions and her own independent (or corrupt) ideas which inspired Revan and all that followed. As a Sith she obtained fantastic power and utterly failed, making no impact whatsoever save equipping her terrifying acolytes and one-time peers. Her last days are spent plotting and wearing both an elaborate set of lies, and most likely her true self. A person without affiliation, but ultimately a woman in borrowed robes, old, blind, one handed.
In a sense Kreia is a modern reminder of the power of Pagan archetypes or Vedic teachings. The self-sacrificing deity or demigod, enforcing a sense of order, devoted purely to strength as the pillar from which all springs from, who only gleans insight from suffering and using the sacrifice of senses and limbs to break the veil of a mundane reality or ideological assumption. The outwardly starved, difficult to understand and abrasive sage possessed of great spiritual power (the root Yoda originally sprang from but in a very different result).
The alliance of ideologies, pooling the knowledge and approaches and characters of others is a greater strength, offers more victories, of itself is more freedoms.
It’s like watching a flash version of Palpatinian corruption, but more haunting because she’s disturbingly human when she cries out in pain, hatred or despair, the performance far from a pantomime villain but oddly the most authentic voicing of hurt and spite recorded yet in the gaming medium. Where usually an enemy is made into something inhuman to symbolise its monstrosity, the companion and eventual final villain of the game has unsettling levels of humanity thanks to her voice acting, the most famous and viscerally upsetting examples being the fade to black of her torture while she screams.
It’s awful to hear a woman in pain, the elderly in pain, or someone loud and emotive, and all three of these primal triggers are in play with the performance. And, we are also conditioned to react to Kreia being harmed via the narrative, knowing that harm to her causes debilitating feedback to our player character (which she even very cleverly uses against us due to self-awareness. In a game famous for creating two incredibly intimidating and original villains in Sion and Nihilus; Kreia is the hidden threat as demonstrated by alteration to the title screen. It is far more unsettling to be fighting your teacher. To hurt someone who cries out like a grandmother, possessed of so much hate and megalomania within a quintessentially human form.
The spite in her words to Sion, that comes from a confidence. As Kreia, she has fallen, in a way that Traya did not. Her layer of experience has a new teaching. Traya fell from the academic certainties of a morally grey but institutionalised tutor, with the prestige of a Professor and police officer wrapped in one.
She’s a conniving, manipulative, and cruel character. And yet, her knowledge is extremely useful, or at least fascinating in that it actively challenges both character and player. In a philosophical sense, either one accepts the value and refreshing arguments she presents, or, in attempting to prove her wrong or argue with her, strengthen their position, and particularly the caution and motive behind it, motive and personal strength derived from contemplative action being Kreia’s biggest obsession.
The voice shift and costume change could indicate an alternate personality if you were inclined to that thinking, a symbol of her ironic mental fragility considering the burden of torture, confusion and insanity, or merely the kind of ‘reveal’ akin to Palpatine in the films. In this case, I find it interesting that the ‘mask’, the created persona of neutrality, kept in line by centring herself is what she wishes to be more real, amusingly her more benevolent guise (at least to you) of a teacher, her manipulations the healing she wishes it to be, as the woman argues there is no difference between manipulation and healing.
If there was ever a louder proponent of ‘teach a man to fish’ than Kreia, I can’t think of one. I find the frustration with her teaching methods and her constant umbrage of anything you try pretty funny, you don’t need to look far to see that in parents and teachers.
The desire to aid -by not aiding- people achieve their potential can be seen as self-serving vanity, or an example of the devastation required to achieve a utopia reminds me of the Churchill comment that truth is so precious that it requires attendance by a bodyguard of lies.
Whether Revan felt this way, as she herself says when another gives and opinion is conjecture. This insight shows her philosophy, being enamoured with the sacrifice of choosing the dark for a pupil she idealised -and a differentiation of the ‘fall’, she refers to in regards to Atris, to herself, and to Ajunta Pall- is in line with her choice. at Korriban she avoids the influence, and at Malachor succumbs to it. To go all this way and just turn into a maniac, to go off the rails, to be part of a rushed end product? It could be any of these, but I see it a bit as ‘suicide by cop’. It’s the mentality of someone drawing power and all their finery and power knowing that the apprentice will come. It’s one of the reasons I see Kreia at times as a well-intentioned Sith, a ‘grey Sith’ perhaps. Because as Atton says she’s straightforwardly like that with her teachings, and the confrontation echoes the duel between Bane and Zannah, prove your own power and worthiness. I am better off dead, if a greater ideological vindication is served.
The question leads to its own speculation, and what we are left with is the suggestions of one person and the reflection of the audience. I believe personally that the intention was to raise awareness of an addiction, to champion moderation. By declaring a grandiose villainy and intention to destroy a fundamental part of life, this was certain to draw those both light and dark.
If she was simply a Sith, as her rather bitter and experiential observations highlight: she would be alone. Broken. And she is, and entirely resigned to it. My interpretation is that despite her selfishness and egomania that’s very clearly what does not happen. Her flaws and corruption is of a deeper nature, personal and not external. No one made her as she is in the way Vader was. She does not sacrifice the one closest to her (arguably you do that as a Sith if you choose that route, and slay your Master). She does not have the addictive and parasitical path or ending of the Sith with the reward of power. That she dies beside someone, serving them is proof enough from my perspective.
Kreias’s is not all she has. Her arrogance is a self-defence mechanism that’s unravelling with what’s left of her body. Even that situation, the idea of a female character atrophying, a villain expressing her love for a male or female pupil with that love being multi-interpretive, sighing as her damaged and aged body dies is both a beautifully haunting image, and one most modern art lacks the courage or imagination to envision.
Kreia’s femininity fuels and resonates with the scene as much as Vader’s death does, not so much in gender itself, but from the representation. It’s simply a primal thing hearing a son lament the death of a father he redeemed, a frail pale man under the terrifying armour. In an entirely different, but exactly as poignant way you can feel the same with this disarmed old lady giving up her life, her plans and her maliciousness after getting the death she orchestrated. Such devotion to puppeteering even her mortality is fantastically cunning, but on the human level it’s easy to forget that, as with other critical moments like the Dantooine Enclave. Before using her massive power, there is the contrast and the price seeing this highly disciplined woman stumble to sit down. You realise she sits and meditates on the ship not only to conceal herself, hide and regenerate her powers and plan, but probably because she has literally worked a middle-aged life into the aged figure of an elderly woman.
I would argue that Kreia’s ultimate goals come from the dictated lesson to give up power, or at least give up dependency upon power.
I honestly think this scheme is partially what she intends, partially an empty threat to make you kill her, something odd that could honestly have been rushed, and while I hate this out often, I believe Kreia is so wounded that she may be hiding madness or control ironically. She is a professor with a substance abuse problem, going to a drug den to teach a last lesson. She may have conviction, and you learn from it, but when someone gives themselves up to old behaviours and use of power that actively corrupts and warps another, I believe the already suicidal woman was broken, and too smart to ever allow people to heal her.
While I dislike the idea of Kreia just telling the ending in prophecy and no amount of appreciation dimming my annoyance as such a blunt and cheap way to end the game; from a character perspective I take it as a sign of some small regard for the companions in the end regardless of how they felt about her. It’s also part of her mindlessly using all her power purely out of love for the protagonist and to give everything she can before death, but I like to think given the lore some empathy would be required to scry the future in such a way, and extrapolate she cared for them somewhat as honestly none of them did for her. She earned this dislike to be sure; but it’s sad that not even her own daughter cares for her at all after saving the galaxy, only The Exile can be there or express any care for Kreia in the end and no one else. And not only is that quiet potent; it’s a choice the player makes because you can just as easily send her careening to her death without a thought or being glad she’s dead.
Building upon Ravel Puzzewell -a spiritual precursor within another Obsidian story that unbinds and weaves an unusual narrative- Kreia is despite her cynicism and harshness enamoured with The Exile, which is more visible in a dark side playthrough. She follows and teaches you through everything, despite disagreement, and arguably jealousy as well as personal reasons may colour her wish to pull the protagonist away from romance and regard for companions, much as Ravel does in her dissection of obedience and romantic devotion being compulsion. Yielding and submission is what she speaks of in context, like a crass mentor or someone finding it easier to tell another about the facts of life than consider the logical extension of their own yielding, consigned to a past they assume the younger generation will never and have no need to hear.
In hindsight, the female mentor is greatly appreciated, as is a Sith to experience within this series. That she is also encouraging, and not unaware of her pupil’s agency makes her in uncomfortable ways a better teacher than for example Prequel Jedi, suppressing emotion being something espoused blandly. There is still no more in depth and humanistic teacher figure in Star Wars to date, as incredibly dark and amusingly ironic as that sounds.
I would argue that a compelling teacher or a morally dubious character benefits by not always being right, in a way they are teaching lessons again this way. Especially for a character espousing ideals of independence and self-reliance. A good student would question and improve instead of blindly implementing.
It should be noted that regardless of what you do, Kreia abandons her cynicism and malcontentedly nature utterly, approving of any choices you make, regardless of what they are. bringing the concept of duality full circle. The woman who has a cutting remark and criticism for everything, in the end out of compassion approves of anything.
The real life strength and wisdom to making a strange choice, of rejecting authority, keeping your conviction is the option open to a curious player, as much of a deeper reflection of why compassion and conviction is a nuanced and powerful thing, as the initial questioning and more ruthless dictates of Kreia’s philosophy invite one to ponder as we do in historic texts such as On the Ideal Orator, Mastery in the modern era, The Prince, The Book of Chivalry to give some examples of text encouraging deeper reflection of human focus and action.
For all her power, her manipulation and ego taking the place as mouthpiece so often, Kreia is ultimately faced by many. By your friends, which she can never be. Kreia is an enemy, a teacher. A mentor and a lot of muddled and confusing emotions arise from that. not so with any other character. With distance, they see her threat. Which shows a second layer of wisdom in KOTOR II. Yes, it is easy to listen and consider the questioning, the alternate philosophy and the criticism. But meeting it with something beyond blind obedience, an awareness of hope and things beyond cynical and the serious is another lesson, one I believe the game itself champions considering Kreia herself seeming to desire the light side choices at the very least when all is said and done. Much like Jolee Bindo in KOTOR 1. Greyness of outlook and alignment, but ultimately megalomania and domination will be rejected, compared to companionship, defeating the enemy, and returning to a group of people with all the perks of friendship and acceptance.
The refusal, refusal rather than disagreement is the uncommon limitation that makes a thing so refreshing. Perhaps because it echoes reality. The challenge and repercussions of what happens, when we cannot get our own way.
We are told how evil or powerful a character is, but usually this comes down to good marketing on their part, or raw physicality. To calmly seem to understand what is going on, and then invade the mind of another companion shows you the morally grey area is a fact rather than mere description. And it shows a refreshing trait about KOTOR II that we see often in series be hinted at but dealt with almost from the start; a protagonist’s companions being actively hostile to one another. They do not like each other. And not in a kind of arbitrary one argument scene, but in a personal way.
You can get something by merit. Sometimes it’s harder than a connection, but I notice that connections and circumstance run out or leave a person underexposed in their development. Don’t ask don’t get applies, and a lot of bitterness with this stubborn attitudes that helps you win even if you lose. If you don’t win the goal, you end up hitting some other target I assure you.
Ideology has merits in the effect it causes within those who internalise it. Even those who oppose it. But pure ideology is not the point, and with most genuine ones I can think of, they all share the value in attempting practical use.
Ironically Kreia fosters callousness and possibly evil, yet is offended when her pupil takes this to the point of a dark side ending. Perhaps Obsidian’s take on the prodigal child, of someone who takes to teachings too well, without offering contradiction.
Wisdom is a virtue because of its many applications. Not only does it spread well, it carries to many ears, and wholly different wisdom and inspiration for good change multiplies from a single saying. “Apathy is death” Kreia says, through the reflection of a dark side tomb on Korriban. And the fatal human flaw of both belief systems is apathy for outsiders, their ideological enemies, and ultimately expendable ‘normal’ people in wartime.
Let’s be honest, we want final duels to be brutal, energetic, cathartic, and rewarding. And what’s more badass than lopping off the sword hand of the old master fighting you, and them continuing to attack you with the Force and the unique attack of telekinetic blades. Traya fights you with three lightsabers and blasts lightning and energy from the stumps of her arms, at the core of a malevolent world that embodies the nature of bleakness and struggle.
That’s badass. Not just for this series, but of Star Wars in general.
As a character and individual, Kreia is often unpleasant, terrifying and callous. As a teacher, a contradiction, and as a broken person she is unparalleled. There is no more complex character in Star Wars, and never has been a character who details more about the nature of spirituality and belief within the series. The writing has more applicability to the audience than the scope of the games, almost accidentally. And beneath it all, if nothing else, ignoring all the power and scheming and ideas her story is a parable on the worth of knowing when to listen. That there is a power in suffering. There is strength in defiance. There is much we do not see, while being connected temporally, mentally, empathetically to all life. And there is always the option to become greater, to take on strength however we choose. For whatever purpose we choose. And that the person who pulls themselves back together and transforms is always cherished by others.
Thank you very much for reading for so long. This closes Nemean®’s first series. It’s been very humbling and rewarding to complete it; but there will be much, much more.
Part I here.
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.