Character Analysis: Atris
The Echani are not only good guards and allies for a fugitive, historian or leader, but perfect for the Sith. Aside from not detecting the dark side, they would passively accept such a person who valued Sith ideals such as the empowering nature of strength, both ideologies venerate the accumulation and demonstration of strength, and revel in battle for both visceral and philosophical reasons.
It goes beyond ‘devil in plain sight’, more a case of being disgruntled with her, but in her isolation Atris and her cult are harmless. Part of the abrasive, sarcastic Exile you can play quite easily, hardened throughout the game by the queue of enemies waiting to get you.
Aside from being an exiting method of roleplay driven exposition and personal choice, the choice of a lightsaber playing to II’s strengths of uncommon storytelling and the colour options showing that real homework was done lore wise, regarding Atris it brings out another primal emotion used to elicit audience hate.
She’s a thief. Atris has stolen the player character’s blade, the tool that “you described”, the most iconic weapon of the franchise. I could talk about the theme of loss, how unlike KOTOR I this is in the narrative glorification of the protagonist, less a story about recall and more the kind of healing where there is a scar and no going back; but keeping our focus on Atris the antagonist possesses what was yours. As you feel quickly, as with her “last of the Jedi” status, she wields what she does not deserve. While The Exile struggles under the burden of a reputation and bereft of tools that they cannot steal or create, this clearly important item being taken and coveted rather than destroyed as expected of the ascetic order, Atris hides like a coward, served by attendants in her white robes and lifeless surroundings, using the tools of better men and women. It’s a subtle reference to Return of the Jedi, Palpatine patting Luke’s saber possessively.
The moral nuance of KOTOR II leads to if anything not only a possibly more satisfying, but ‘correct’ dark side ending. Aside from leading to a very interesting and clearer discussion with Kreia regarding your choice, allowing someone that may be -possibly- pitiable, a mass murderer, hypocrite, deceitful and arrogant woman who massacred great numbers of her own kind strains credulity, to the point of seeming tonally inconsistent unless you have a good rationalisation for The Exile’s benevolent behaviour.
I could go into the why, but suffice to say, as with…other foolish choices with the II-TOR gap, her having position within the Jedi is patently absurd. Perhaps having headcannon that she was exiled (a hook for III maybe), or allowed to quietly contemplate is palatable. But leaving Atris a Council member, to preside over others? It defies the entire point.
That short rant aside, Atris is an excellent example of writers playing to the assumptions and aesthetics of the Jedi, and a lesson in the appearance of ideological purity. In assumption only, she is good. In the posters and the white dress. Atris is an effective villain, because she does not even have the veneer of goodness or civility. A liar, betrayer, murderer, thief, jealous and spiteful to the bone. Still a human being, still able to consider her flaws, but ultimately a gigantic maw of ego, held upright by the physical threat of her warrior servants. Only the title of her order gives her the power she presumes to bear, (notably as a parasite or virus one may note, lurking away from others and calling the Sith to destroy her enemies rather than using her power whatsoever to fight anyone but The Handmaiden and your party the entire game), and in that light, her character offers so many lessons. It teaches us about conceit and arrogance, the power of simply claiming to belong to an institution, of the way institutions or moralistic groups warp and break those who wholeheartedly adhere to them.
Call me ruthless or evil, but I find this is a good case of why universal redemption is an idea likely used because it’s a game, or because it’s Star Wars. It makes more sense for this villain to meet their end destroyed for what they have done. It is satisfying, ends her torment and delusion, and the exchange between The Exile and Kreia immediately afterwards is so rewarding and sheds light on her motivations and the master and apprentice dynamic.
Like the titular Sith Lords, Atris is exactly the same; a dark side wielder, a manifestation of negative human emotions and actions, vicious, relentless in her pursuit and attempt to harm you physically and mentally, and so absorbed in harm that she surrenders much of what makes her human. From a game perspective she is less character than a monster to overcome, a villain to defeat in the allegory that’s so unsubtle as to hardly be allegory for facing grief and trauma, and part of Kreia’s game to make you strong by pitting you against foes for both your development and to rid the galaxy of serious threats that intend or have purged mass populations of the galaxy’s factions.
To find things in bleak places, what we would call ‘street smarts’, or when we learn from those with dangerous professions is placed into a literally cold and clear light when being brought to stop Atris, even as she is revealed as using Nihilus like an ocean predator, luring the Sith Lord to consume. A party of broken, disrespected, humbled and horrified companions against such ego, that of the sheltered and academically evil mind unconcerned with the common person or collateral damage is a clear way, more than many other villains in showing how far the characters have come. We are less caught up in the intimidation or sense of finality at Malachor V or Nihilus’s bridge. It is clear Atris will be beaten, and there is the enjoyment of finally breaking down that judgement, that smugness like a pantomime villain, or seeing a legal drama where the guilty party stops getting away with it.
Atris to my knowledge carried more spite against a protagonist than any other character I can think of in fiction, realistic spite at that. her distain is both written and acted so well, that I feel many will dismiss and despise her in turn…because we have heard people like her. people who see others as beneath them. I would go so far as to say that like the Sith Lords, she is an embodiment of negative sensations and passions as they are, particularly of elitism, hypocrisy and arrogance itself distilled into an avatar of it.
Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare. 2003.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.