OK, asking which Star Wars movie is the best is setting myself up for a fight. But it’s May the Fourth, so I’ll ask it anyway — what do you think?
What if I told you (cue the Morpheus meme) that the best Star Wars movie is actually a game . . . and a decade-old, notoriously broken game at that?
Guess I’m really asking for a punch in the Naboo now. But let me introduce you to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, aka KOTOR 2.
Whereas all the movies have subscribed, more or less, to a straightforward “good versus evil” system of morality, KOTOR 2 is ballsy enough to bring up the possibility that the Jedi, in adhering to a strict, uncompromising code, could actually be in the wrong. And that, maybe, the Sith have a point.
You (or rather, the main character) are continually forced to confront these questions by an elderly, blind, former Jedi master named Kreia, who is one of the most fantastic characters ever to grace any video game, not just a Star Wars game. Kreia asks tough questions about the supposedly binary Light and Dark Sides of the Force that nobody else seems to be asking.
For example, after doing the typical RPG hero thing and giving a few bucks to a refugee in need, Kreia asks you: “Why would you do such a thing? Such kindness will mean nothing, his path is set. Giving him what he has not earned is like pouring sand into his hands.”
If you defend your actions, saying you were helping the refugee to survive and to find hope for the future, Kreia goes on:
“The Force binds all things. The slightest push, the smallest touch, sends echoes throughout life. Even an act of kindness may have more severe repercussions than you know or can see. By giving him something he has not earned, perhaps all you have helped him become is a target.”
In a few short sentences, Kreia provides more justification for a
Republican Sith / Dark Side worldview than we’ve been given in hours upon hours of Star Wars screen time. Maybe it’s not all about mustache-twirling evil; maybe there’s actually a coherent philosophy underlying the actions of the villains.
Later, Kreia critiques the Jedi’s monk-like approach to upholding their principles:
“Turning away from that which tempts you or causes you fear is not strength. Facing it is.”
“It is only through interaction, through decision and choice, through confrontation, physical or mental, that the Force can grow within you.”
I mean, that’s not only an argument for the value of, erhm, player choice, but also for an active approach for shaping one’s own character, rather than the passivity that the Jedi seem to advocate.
I’m not saying Kreia’s right — there’s a lot of different ways to look at this question (e.g., Western vs. Eastern philosophy, determinism vs. free will, etc.) that don’t hinge on one side being “right” and the other “wrong.” That’s what makes this approach to the Star Wars universe so fascinating . . . it’s set up, at least potentially, as a clash of competing philosophies rather than “bad guys want to destroy the world because evil, and good guys want to stop them.”
The lead designer for KOTOR 2, Chris Avellone (most famous for the monumental achievement Planescape: Torment), admitted that he used Kreia to challenge the existing lore: “She was questioning everything about the Star Wars universe that I thought should be questioned.”
Maybe, you say, this particular universe doesn’t need to be questioned — maybe it’s just meant to be an extended allegory, a simple tale of space wizards versus the forces of darkness. And that’s fair. I’m not sure George Lucas initially had anything much more sophisticated than that in mind.
But I love that it contains the possibility of stretching out into something more complex, and that’s where KOTOR 2 really shines: as both a tribute and challenge to the source material. The game was released as a buggy mess but has since been cleaned up in the “Restored Content” version, largely created by fans who saw the storytelling potential in KOTOR 2 and wanted to help it shine through.
I’ll grant you, though, that the new Star Wars movie was pretty damn good, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.