It started out quite harmlessly as a ground-breaking turn-based Star Wars role-playing game. But since it has grown into an indispensable art of the Star Wars Universe despite it being largely non-canon. On the one hand the legends run so deep that at some point it seems unavoidable that the Old Republic era is going to get a canonization treatment. But what kind of treatment will that be? I will try to keep thing relatively spoiler-free for those who have not played any of these games … yet.
Revan and Bastilla Shan
When Knights of the Old Republic I appeared and started its victorious run as a highly decorated computer game this success was in part due to the introduction of a number of extremely interesting characters. Yet the game was set-up in an ingenious way. Developer Bioware chose a rather non-linear narrative that is extremely well suited for such an action adventure: the plot is finding out as a player who you are. But it is all also set to a very good soundtrack that combines some traditional Star Wars elements with lots of new themes and tunes. I still enjoy listening to the soundtrack even though I haven’t played the game anymore in years. And some tunes simply return me directly to the worlds they correspond to and the adventures I experienced there.
KoToR I opened up a part of the Star Wars time-line and gave us an exciting character in (Darth) Revan that made a lasting impression vastly beyond the gaming community. As a Jedi so tormented by the experience of a disastrous war (the Mandalorian Wars) that he falls to the Darkside his storyline in KoToR I fits well within the type and thematic range of stories that make Star Wars so tantalizing. The same can be said about the Jedi Knight Bastilla Shan, who represents a great addition to the pantheon of female characters in Star Wars. I think it is not an exaggeration to say that these two characters have attracted so much fan-love that any announcement of a film or an animation series related to them would draw in crowds of excited fans.
Kreia and The Exile
After the highly successful and acclaimed KoToR I fans were waiting for an equally enticing successor. It came in the form of Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords made by Obsidian. For me it was the first game in the series that I played and it’s delicate story immediately got me hooked. Instead of a RPG ‘who is who’ type of game, KoToR II takes you on a journey that is about discovering central aspects of The Force. The game plays about a decade after the events of KoToR I. Not only is this a journey of self-discovery for the character played by the gamer, but in a way also for the key non-player character Kreia. I think Kreia, who won best game character awards in the year KoToR II appeared, is one of the most intriguing Star Wars characters outside of the films. Her elaborations on the nature of The Force can hold their own next to the teachings of an epic character like Yoda. Yet Kreia’s teachings are significantly more ‘gray’ and are at times outright disturbing.
In addition to Kreia Kotor II includes a range of new and highly interesting characters, both male as well as female. But I think Kreia stands out as a character that just begs for some form of canonization.
The Old Republic
Since KoToR II there was a long silence around the Knights of the Old Republic. Many were waiting for a new story to be told within this interesting time-frame and there was a distinct hope that the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic would in fact be this ‘KoToR III’. The Old Republic Bioware game announced in 2008 and released in 2011 has generally been positively received. It plays some 300 years after the storylines of its two precursors and partly supplies new information on Revan’s backstory. An interesting aside here is the fact that Revan was scheduled to appear on Star Wars: the Clone Wars in the Mortis Arc but cut in a fairly late stage. You may even spot some similarities between Revan’s appearance and Kylo Renn’s from The Force Awakens.
In my subjective opinion the additions to Revan’s back story was mishandled in The Old Republic. He becomes less of a troubled spirit and more of a maniacal weirdo. In general I have the feeling that the Old Republic storylines are more about extravagant ‘bad-assery’ then truly interesting characters navigating ethically treacherous waters. Although it is all undeniably Star Wars, it doesn’t feel as ‘Star Wars at its best’ to me but as increasingly displaying some of the weaknesses of the larger legends EU.
A Future and Canonization?
The most recently announced expansion pack, Knights of the Fallen Empire, sounds very promising story wise. The trailer looks absolutely astonishing, but then this has become almost a standard for Old Republic trailers. The worry that the actual in-game story may pale in comparison to the trailer-narrative is not without grounds. But what it testifies to above and beyond all are two things:
- There is a deep and passionate fascination among Star Wars fans with this Old Republic era, some 3750 years BBY;
- The exploration of that era has generated remarkable characters and astounding storylines that are worthy of exploring further;
- The era could benefit from a canonization of sorts.
Even just a single Old Republic anthology film could do wonders here. By tying lines to some of the ‘Legends’ content that seems worthwhile preserving and newly exploring what seems ill-conceived in the current legends, such a film could be extremely entertaining. But the Shan family line, from Bastilla to Satele, would in my view even warrant a Saga of its own set in Old Republic times. There is enough material here worthy of saving and also more than enough opportunity to produce something that qualitatively far exceeds what has been developed so far.
Star Wars currently has a never-before-seen potential of stories and narratives available ranging from the exploits of a new sequel-trilogy group of characters, through the impeding exciting interactions between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader down to the further refining of known characters, such as Boba Fett or Obi Wan Kenobi, or event-stories such as the Deathstar-plans heist in Anthology Films. Opening up a window on the Old Republic Era might seem like an unneccesary luxury there but I believe that it could not only ‘save’ what is potentially an extremely interesting Star Wars era of story-telling. But it would uniquely allow something completely untried in cinematic or comic universes: mythological story-telling spanning millennia. An Old Republic era as a ‘Silmarillion’ for the Star Wars Universe.