KOTOR II Character Analysis: HK-50(s’)

In KOTOR II fashion the threat and the twisted interpretation of an old element is an evolution: ‘Statement’ is replaced with ‘Derisive statement’. More expression and more humour should bring to mind a comic character; instead of a less sophisticated, more bestial killer. The speech of the first HK50, and subsequently the horde of its copies are more eloquent linguistically and base at heart. Well worded and disgusting, much like the criminal element the droids are an associated part of, killers for money motivated by murder as a steely equivalent to the Wookie Hanharr.

HK 50s have a number of small aesthetic distinctions I rather enjoy that play into the theme of disposability and also a sense of being subtly ‘wrong’ compared to the baseline. HK-47’s brass finish, marked with scouring and scratches plays into what Star Wars does very well; portraying a lived in and comfortable universe. It is as old as something like Dune, allowing a reasonable explanation for why there can be both a rundown feeling and incredible technological development. 47’s eye lenses are an aggressive red, signalling his alignment as much as a red lightsaber. I rather enjoy the fact that he is so obvious, he is part of this obviously chaotic evil that is very effective comedy. And KOTOR also uses him to tie in with the sense of worldbuilding, his translations actually providing the context of a precursor civilisation and explaining the one biome planets such as Tatooine and Kashyyyk.

The HK50 is an example of how a mechanical character can reuse a game asset, resurrect an aesthetic entirely, and also interest the audience through a combination of the introduction of new technological models and parricide. As many know regarding for instance a phone, the introduction of new technology creates and argument whether it has invalidated the old. These thinking machines, based upon an amusing but clearly sadistic assassin take the theme and fears of the chrome plated and mass-produced malfunction, mass produced, hostile technology in a literal sense. They also elicit the fear akin to a beloved character or unwitting parent being engaged by offspring clearly more mentally warped. It’s the fear of a Mordred, or of countless stories in which the wise and old are overthrown by the younger psychotic child who from the start appears unworthy and upends the social order through violence and shock.

HK 50’s have a silver finish, reflecting both a newer, but lesser quality compared to the bolder finish. Most interesting, they do not share the same coloured eye lenses. I find this to be the most subtle touch. They are certainly even more evil than he is, more numerous, insidious, and dangerous to the player. But their appearance reflects it less, which I believe is very in keeping with what a business or combat manufacturer would do with insidious technology, fictional or otherwise.

The HK50s ‘scoffing statement’ “It is pathetic that you cling to the belief that your function somehow transcends your construction” is a telling quote for basic personality matrix conflicts, an effective way to describe their arcs and the nature of psychology in general. There is no ‘art’, nothing other than the common element of the story they feature in, a powerful faction or individual seeking omnicide out of insanity, stupidity, or lowness of vision. Power without constraint or meaning, a demonstration in a world of grey that evil is more than simply the iconography or titles of a story’s villain.

“We have destroyed planets, assassinated economies, wiped out entire races.”

Deliberate droid mistranslation is an effective way from the start to bring in our innate fears and hatred of manipulative technology, and HK47 much more clearly in II shows what a blight these machines really are, and how humour blocks accepting the morality of a character, and underestimating them. Underestimation is a primary theme of the entire HK line. Knowing that the first one murdered, and lied and played the fool to massacre the inhabitants of the mining depot who found you adds a kind of legal or conversational fight, forcing the smug and guilty party to be caught out in contradictory information. The HK50 is lying. This fact alone, unsettling brings out the primal frustration at a hostile individual intent on doing harm blandly standing there, while you wait for the pretence to drop. The other is the smugness with which this creature, like many of the self-superior become aggravating in the extreme. It is satisfying to pick apart this first boss for lack of a better term, the monster in the dungeon by outsmarting it.

Make a beloved comedy character an enemy with a simple twist; his already malevolent personality is not restrained by you. In an amusing tirade HK47 highlights mockingly The Exiles circumstance, the corruption of ideology by the subversive, and the rage arising from beings which appear physically similar, but the far more expansive and actually important mental makeup and principles:

“Imagine that no one has sunk lower than you, that you are truly the most miserable example of a Jedi ever […] Now imagine this. Someone clones you. Badly, I might add. They make the clones talk differently, rob you of any shred of personality, and take your Jedi Code and adjust it, so that it is not really the Jedi Code any more. They even change your pigmentation…”

It’s ingenious. A memorable antagonist for the prologue, obvious and confusing at the same time, like Sion and Kreia is all thrown at us at once, our identification of Star Wars staples tell us what we are seeing, but realising the most hilarious droid in Star Wars is now numerous and smug about the massacre they perpetrate is a great twist. Kristoffer Tabori’s performance really sells it also. Yes, it is merely redirection, showing that his voiced character is terrifying but where they are aimed at. But still, very effective transition from ‘I am a law abiding droid! Yes, law abiding!’ to ‘I’m wearing a face of a character you like, but orchestrate genocides and will duel you with words exposing my intent to kill you and joy at all those people I murdered’.

Tonally KOTOR II is not a quest or journey into the unknown, but more of a horrifying sense of what is birthed within a dying system or environment given to despair. The introductory dungeon is more thematically in line with a fantasy dungeon, or the classic Citadel Station of System Shock; because after all unlike the series’ amnesiac opening aboard a warship one character is alone, missing any items and walking empty halls due to an enemy combatant.

As with all the KOTOR II antagonists an additional layer of difficulty and means of extending the pacing is a logic puzzle, dialogue and story threads are required to destroy each antagonist and not simply combat itself. While this delves into the esoteric in other cases, a simple but technologically understandable and frustrating reason the HK50s are a threat is due to the programming prohibiting HK47 from harming them. It’s an interesting case of Asimov’s Laws of Robotics applied specifically not to human beings, suiting the theme of breakaway groups and deliberately avoiding the ‘central’ factions and common preoccupations within the series. The cast and quests are intended to be detached and semi-autonomous, this conflict not in the control of the protagonist, much as both HK47 and the 50s are out of control.

The inevitability of opening a series of new models becomes part of the Restored Content ending as the 50s give way inevitably to the HK51s, the new model narrative inviting an upgrade much like animals and bacteria reproduce and form distinctly new generations. The older, more individual model favoured naturally by audiences for that unique quality and personality then speaks of a general autonomy from the constraints of the ‘meatbag’ organics who have commanded him for his entire existence. These most blatant, hostile second generation are destroyed, a very satisfying enemy to destroy for their wholly evil and destructible nature. In a single concept is the notion of corporate, mass-produced laziness, the evils of technology not being a matter of interpretation but literal, and the generation resorting to torturing even their own as something of a recreational pastime. The uncanny demonstrates how even very slight and subtle change makes something understood or comfortable disconcerting, even dangerous. Perhaps this is due to what was always within, or the dark potential of a thing as it becomes corrupted or reinterpreted. The HK50s show in quite a direct manner what this uncanny unpleasantness can be, not the bookend but a very effective introduction into the notion that a familiar face is hardly comforting, and that each unpleasant societal situation has easily missed roots, stories to unpack; and predators among even our human biomes.


Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare. 2003.

Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.

If anyone is interested in the initial HK50 encounter and a discussion about it, I found watching this long style ‘lorerun’ interesting and the discussion stuck with me years later. The ideas written are entirely my own, but I do think it gentlemanly to refer you to one of my sources, which you may or may not be interested in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyQ9_RIrN6Q&list=PLA_ZFCIpDAd8o6EfAsYQb9WGcsGR7eOEn&index=18

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