I’ve already written about KOTOR on this blog, so I don’t think it’s surprising that it’s coming up again, especially because its history and lore is intimately entangled with my novel. Without Knights of the Old Republic, The Wild Core Chronicle simply wouldn’t exist, so I can’t talk enough about these games and everything involved in their mythos.
Today I want to touch on the more subtle ways that KOTOR has influenced me as a writer, especially Wild Core, which has somehow become my life’s work. I’ve really remembered just what it is about Knights and its sequel The Sith Lords that I find inspiring, so if my Alpha Readers tell me that my story reminds them of Mass Effect, it’s probably because a Bioware game did have a hand in influencing its flavor.
Actually, in replaying these games I’ve noticed that it’s the storytelling itself I really admire, and that I probably wouldn’t play them if I weren’t so enamored of it. The battle system in both games is clunky and oftentimes the games are plagued with bugs or glitches that makes the journey across the Galaxy Far Far Away frustrating, at best (especially Sith Lords — oi. I needed to patch the game just to make it playable). And yet I am absolutely in love with them and have logged at least 120 hours on both games combined, combing the setting over for details and immersing myself in this particular part of Extended Universe Lore.
It took me awhile to figure out what it was, other than the strong cast of characters (more so in Knights than The Sith Lords), and the world building focus. Sometimes it’s hard to identify that “it” quality in the media we like, but all of your favorite stories probably have something about them that keeps you coming back, be they game, book, or television show. I know that when it comes to books, The Knight and Rogue Novels by Hilari Bell really appeal to me because of the way in which immersion into her fantasy setting occurs progressively over the course of the novels and feels completely natural. With Knights and Sith Lords it turned out being that the games have a distinct sense of atmosphere, that the world really feels distinct — distinct even from other things in the Star Wars universe — and that the lessons of morality in the story really contribute to that sense of setting and identity.
I don’t really know how other people feel about games that make moral statements. I’m sure there’s a controversy about it somewhere, actually, because you can find controversy about anything on the internet (speaking as someone who was previously involved in the Dragon Age fandom). For my personal part, I really enjoy games that say something, even if they’re just saying it about the world the game takes place in. That’s something that Knights and Sith Lords do in spades, making sure to give us something that Star Wars doesn’t have a lot of in general — a sincere criticism of the Jedi. Even when they make mistakes in other stories, especially the movies, they are still seen as the ultimate force for good in the galaxy.
Knights and Sith Lords challenge that in everything they do. In fact, many of the wars and tragedies that occurred are attributed to the Jedi being narrow-minded and self righteous. Even if they are the ultimate force of good in the galaxy, they are still made up of flawed people, and for the first time in Star Wars, questions of redemption and choice when choosing the Dark Side are actually called into play. Can someone be a bad person, a Sith, but still be doing all these horrible things to save the galaxy? Can someone who was that evil really come back to the Light? Was it their choice to do what they did in the first place, instead of being seduced by some ominous aforementioned power? Are Jedi so prone to fall because they’re emotionally stunted and haven’t been given the true tools they need to resist temptation? These are all questions that these games ask, questions that I believe are important to ask in any world if true depth is to be brought to it.
It is because of the KOTOR games, in part, that the Union of Ryll and Zyloni Empire became so complex. I started questioning the dichotomies I had created in my own world, following the Space Opera tradition of epic fights between good and evil. I quickly realized, though, that the statement I wanted to make wasn’t the sort that Star Wars usually makes when one just watches the movies. There could still be an epic conflict between absolute good and evil, of course, and the Zyloni and their beliefs could still embody the best of that through their support of the Order of the Garnet Star, but I wanted a world that called into question just what all the shades between absolute good and evil are.
That’s why two out of my three point of view protagonists come from the Union, which is certainly the major aggressor in the Wild Core galaxy. I wanted to show that even the country where absolute evil is allowed to thrive has gentler elements, and that any society has proponents for change within it. Good people live in bad places, and I’ve never been fond of the idea that everyone in a nation where most people have no choice but to conform to survive are evil just by association with their leaders. More over, I don’t like the idea that bad people can’t exist in a place that expounds equality and justice, and that the people who hold those beliefs always have to be pleasant and easy to be around. It doesn’t work that way in real life, and though sometimes it should absolutely work that way in fiction, mine isn’t a story where that sort of lesson fits.
I’ve always believed in complexity, in forgiveness and understanding, and in not facing people with judgement. Putting those beliefs into practice in my life has been difficult, but it was KOTOR that originally inspired me to begin employing mindfulness in my day to day interactions, and KOTOR that inspired me to make Wild Core a Grey Morality Space Opera. I honestly believe there is always something to be gained by questioning what we know about the establishments around us, and from realizing that we will never have all the answers as to why someone might do something and thus treating individuals with understanding while still standing up for our beliefs.
To me, KOTOR exemplifies that mindset by questioning the Jedi Order while never making them out to be monsters and adding depth to the Sith while never painting them as heroes. It makes Star Wars far more complex than I ever though it could be and has held my interest in the series far longer than the movies alone ever have. I’m grateful to it for impacting my writing in such a large way.