“Four thousand years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, the Republic verges on collapse. DARTH MALAK, last surviving apprentice of the Dark Lord Revan, has unleashed an invincible Sith armada upon an unsuspecting galaxy.
Crushing all resistance, Malak's war of conquest has left the Jedi Order scattered and vulnerable as countless Knights fall in battle, and many more swear allegiance to the new Sith Master.
In the skies above the Outer Rim world of Taris, a Jedi battle fleet engages the forces of Darth Malak in a desperate effort to halt the Sith's galactic domination....”
It is a truism that the videogame industry has an infinite amount more misses than hits. For every successful title there are hundreds more that the average gamer has yet to and never will play. It is a volume industry that is likely to never change.
But, on occasion, the gaming industry catches lightning in a bottle and we are witness to a defining moment, something that not only captures the imagination of the players, but has a uniqueness to it that can sustain over time. Pac-Man, Tetris, Doom, Mortal Combat, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, these are all games that changed the industry upon their release and altered the course of what was to come.
“Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” released in 2003 by LucasArts and developed by BioWare was one of those games. An RPG game brought to digital life, KotOR was lifted from the pages of Dark Horse comic books and West End Games, creating a surrealistic environment that combined the latest in gaming software with the expansive world of the Star Wars universe and its mythology.
Thanks to the recent crop of less than stellar entries, the title was a watershed moment for fans who were starting to lose hope on Star Wars video gaming. Unlike those other games, “Knights of the Old Republic” would go on to achieve great success; top many games of the year lists, win countless awards, and launch several careers at the same time.
Many of the game’s characters, planets and ships would find their way into the Star Wars lexicon, none more so than the game’s protagonist, Darth Revan. Good luck going to most any convention and not seeing Revan walking around, I was attending a convention just recently and saw one. He invariably shows up in fan polls, has been the inspiration for several artistic interpretations, and even has his own LEGO minifigure. And in December 2017 Revan made his canon debut with a very subtle nod in The Last Jedi (google it).
Just recently we’ve heard that at long last the Old Republic would be finding its way onto the big screen. Reports are that the focus of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s (Game of Thrones) forthcoming Star Wars trilogy will be set hundreds of years prior to the Skywalker Saga. And while that may not mean Revan, Bastila Shan, the Endar Spire, or HK-47 specifically, it’s good news nonetheless for Old Republic fans.
So, it seems what’s old is new again and that’s one of the many unique things about this aptly titled new book by Alex Kane, “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”, its remarkable timing.
Alex, a journalist from Illinois who routinely contributes to Star Wars dot com, has delivered a detailed, albeit brief, oral history of the now legendary game as told by those who were there. And with lots of people likely google searching “old republic” in the next little while, the timing of its release can only be attributed to the will of the Force.
As I mentioned, it’s a quick read (only 128 pages), but Alex does a great job of getting his point across, even if he chews up a few pages at the beginning to do so. Once he gets going however he manages to cover a remarkable amount of ground in a short period of time. And aside from veering off course occasionally, his writing remains focused and tight throughout.
“I hope this isn’t a disaster…”
-James Ohlen, BioWare Designer
I love true accounts, told from the point of view of the people that were there, and all the key players are here and accounted for. Folks like Project Director Casey Hudson, Designer James Ohlen, Producer Mike Gallo and writer Drew Karpyshyn just to name a few. In fact, the cast of people contributing to this book is as long as the cast of the actual game!
And Alex is smart enough to know that when you have access to these key people, you step aside and let them tell the story, something he succeeds at for most of this book. Another thing he does well is keep their interjections short and to the point, so as not to get lost in a game of who’s who. Despite the large cast, you’ll have no trouble keeping up and that’s a compliment to Alex’s style.
Beneficially, even though it’s been 14 years in most cases, the people that were involved in the production of this game are pleasantly lucid in their recounting. Some have spoken of the game over the years occasionally, but others not so much. And even though it really wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme, they wax poetic and romanticize the period as if it was the Old Republic itself.
And while it’s easy for us to imagine that it was likely a magical time for them, it’s still better to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Whether it’s Gallo talking about the late nights partying on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, or John Gallagher still awestruck from his meeting with famed Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie, these guys clearly cherished this time in their life. To the person, they all speak of it with a great fondness for the game and each other.
What makes retracing their steps even easier is that the game never really went away, something of a focus for Alex later in the book. Beyond its sequel and the subsequent MMORPG “Star Wars: The Old Republic”, the original has had everlasting quality to it, this book being just one example.
Its influence can be seen everywhere, especially visually where so many of today’s popular characters bear a resemblance to the games leads. Kylo Ren for example, in many of the creator’s minds, is a tip of the cap in their direction sharing a similar look and feel to Revan. Not that their upset by it, seeing it as part of the process, as writer Drew Karpyshyn says, “Creatively, you have to understand that people are going to take bits and pieces and use them, especially in a shard universe like Star Wars. And, personally, I’m flattered when I see things like that.”
Alex mostly sticks to this format, first person accounts; as they are the grease that turns the wheel in this case. So, he’s chosen to live by that sword and only interject occasionally, mostly just to transition from one part to the next, with some success.
But this style is why the book whisks by and this is why you’ll likely long for more, especially when it comes to discussing the actual gameplay or the Odyssey Engine. That’s my only real issue with this book, as deep as it goes; it could go a lot deeper. Because what makes it on the page is sometimes good and often great stuff; there’s just ultimately not enough of it.
But still, I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not learning something new. Even as trivial as Twi’lek Mission Vao was Catherine Taber’s first VO job or that it was the first appearance of the now famous Hammerhead-class cruiser. Alex crams so much exposition into his book that there’s definitely great value to most any level of Star Wars fan.
What became clear to me almost right away was that I could listen to these guys talk all day long about their time in the sun; they are still that passionate about it. It dawned on me, someone who has been playing the game since its release, that these creators are just as fascinating as the game itself. And in many ways, Alex treats both the game AND the creators with an equal amount of reverence, tactfully stopping short of hero-worship in both cases.
But you can tell Alex has a deep love for not only for gaming, but the process behind it, including its creators and their stories. And it’s obvious that writing this book was a passion project for him.
Hopefully there’s more to come from Mr. Kane because I get the feeling he has a lot more to say on this subject, that he’s just scratching the surface here. And I have no doubt he’s got enough left in the tank for another book, maybe KotOR 2?
This is Alex’s first book and it’s obvious he has the talent to really tear into a subject and do the work that’s required. I look forward to seeing him write something more traditionally expository next time and less first person, he’s clearly got the skills to do so.
But in the meantime, if you love “Knights of the Old Republic” and/or Star Wars and want to learn more about the game and its creators, this book will do quite nicely. This is a wonderful debut indeed from now book author Mr. Kane.
“Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” is available April 6th through Boss Flight Books. You can order your copy HERE.
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