Healing and Temperance in Knights of the Old Republic
A pivotal theme of Bioware’s seminal Star Wars story Knights of The Old Republic, still very influential even many years later for its branching story and the codification and questioning of many concepts of the myths of the galaxy populated and threaded by the Force is the essential nature of healing and temperance. KOTOR is overwhelmingly a story about negating the slow grind of a villain who is against the nature even of his own faction, the protagonist a Prodigal Knight revivifying the galaxy as they feel suits them best. The story allows for an even view of neutral systems, the hostility of both urban and countryside, and the end point the revelation of Darth Revan being someone who did and will again demonstrate the mastery of power derives from willingness to heal wounds and thus create efficiency and loyalty, and that to understand light and dark, one cult and its opposite all centres around healing and temperance; and in a way, temperance and healing is a core theme of this games sequel in ways both more small scale and subtle yet evident in later writing.
Befitting the Yin and Yang idea; a straightforward new risk with a game that proved to be one of the more popular stories and really took off Bioware as a company. And right beside it was if not the darkest certainly the most cynical, bleak and rushed KOTOR II tale made by Obsidian. Duality in Star Wars literally writes itself, in ways I won’t insult your intelligence by drawing attention to.
A touch I like that KOTOR employs are the Jedi robes, a small art piece. Brown and blue are good colours to keep, and the mixture of robe and light around, it’s to accommodate the game engine sure, but as a kind of uniform I believe fits the hierarchy and time for Jedi removed from the post-Ruusan period very well. In Dantooine, an idyllic Jedi world where the monastic order actually behaves as such has an active set of quests aimed to aid the eccentricities and needs of the people, the main inhabitants are a feature, like the butterflies and ladybugs wandering on leaves.
In a more straightforward tale of Light as good, it suits in this way to subtly show while mistaken or not invincible in their actions, the peaceable yet active defender is the ideal, and fitting for the heroic or a character the player will pick up as part of an order. To heal is to crush the usurper Malak, interestingly even within the Dark Side route, for reasons of ideological purity as much as the Jedi. While ruthless and cruel for stupid reasons, KOTOR establishes a code of the Sith which actually has utility without malevolence at its heart, even ruthlessly conquering the galaxy a Darth Revan is healing it from the war riven state. In the first place, something stated by both games is that temperance is why Revan alone was considered an admirable figure by almost all the galaxy, stumbling upon a superweapon sparingly used brings to mind ideas of Mutually Assured Destruction or the threat of peace through force. In ‘sipping the cup’ Revan emulates certain mystics such as the 40K White Scars, the benevolent not utterly greedy, and thus morally and energetically corrupted witch.
The healing of KOTOR II is the less idealistic and more jaded variety. Less “Rex quondum, rexque futurum”, but rather bleeding in the city street. Seeing the dead tombs of Korriban and the warlords underneath them in a real way oddly means the galaxy is at peace. There are no millions storming planetary shores, no shining knights and imperial royalty.
It makes me think about very disparate ideologies, very different cultures in real life that do not find the same place or agree, but land upon archetypes, solutions, experiences. In KOTOR there is the meditative stillness of Dantooine, and these worlds themselves are exercises in the breadth of human experience and imagination. How unlike a desert is a forested world, or an ocean?
While technology against life is the starkest visual present in the SW series with its death stars and star destroyers facing worlds of leaves and cold, KOTOR broadens this a little by melding the technological with the very worn in and entrenched galactic population. In not being new, but so very old it makes sense to have the lightsaber and Jedi Knight in the same place as a dusty cantina. The narrative widens this, as with the Jedi and the Force to imagine how the old, vague but powerful magic works. How much life and growth, evolution and energy would there be throughout hundreds of thousands of years of sentient life? I’m not speaking spiritually, but consider this from a secular viewpoint even. How many trillions of animals lived and died, how much energy was photosynthesised, how many books were written? The incredible age easily gives the ineffable quality to what’s really quite a brutal setting.
I believe the reason the two stories are logically separated, and the greater creative team clearly dropping the sequel while keeping the latter is due to interpretation of that temperance. The story of Revan is not that of a black knight, a very morally complex narrative when considering KOTOR I. the temperance is choosing the Light, forgoing military power and kingship in favour of destroying the corruption such power invites. In coming back, Revan comes into ‘balance’. His restraint made him powerful even as a Sith Lord, temperance with the Star Forge being the virtue as much as his charisma in winning an army. With the benefit of interpretation this was fleshed out, and almost by accident made Revan one of the few ‘successful’ Sith at all.
Peace, or at least managing opposing forces is one of the subtler and more original parts of the story, especially noticeable in places invented by the Bioware team and nothing like the films. The best example I can think of would be Mannan, or the Unknown World. Where there are no dominating ‘sides’ and the violent instinct to destroy cannot affect such a place, there is power and the ability to see differently. Thinking about it, there is no freedom where one must live under one government (and military) or another.
A game has a way of conveying this feedback, tying it into the narrative in a way that film simply cannot. In one way: a film does not have two alternative viewings -not even a director’s cut- whereas the ‘Dark’, ‘Light’ and ‘Grey’ are all possible (though the division is clearly made into two endings).
I will say that a unique way these themes are something not tied to the writing, or even conscious creative direction was due to the soundtrack and ambience required for a game with several hours of runtime, including a great deal of backtracking. A naturally meditative state can arise when performing a repetitive or laid-back task, and no wonder such large Let’s Plays have come from KOTOR, its sequel, and the MMO. I wonder if naturally, the essence of thought, contemplating the skybox or any number of things colours that general sense of awareness, the comforting power inherence in the setting’s surroundings very much being part of Star Wars. Aesthetic and philosophy conjoin; the beautiful vistas reflect either reflect the wealth and cultural disparity of the Inner and Outer Rim, certain areas are affected by the living beings around it, and notably there is the theme of biomes being entirely uniform to convey the astounding effort of one or multiple species to make an entire planet a microcosm of a single concept or function such as Tatooine being the desert dedicated to lawlessness and thrift of all kinds from scavenger to famer to gangster.
It’s innately satisfying to perform quests, right wrongs in games, with a certain appeal of interaction we cannot obtain watching a film or reading a book. Knights of the Old Republic expounds upon this desire, making it the root of the tree of its plot, a consistent part of interacting with its linear main quests and sequential planet travel. The wider nature of exploration, of making a decision after contemplating disparate sides of conflict, and consequence coming after the use of power make for powerful empathic draws to a story and a good theme to revolve a series of stories around.
Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare. 2003.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.