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Knights of the Old Republic 2 beat The Last Jedi to its best lesson

A classic game told a story that was years ahead of its time

Obsidian Entertainment/Lucasarts

“One quickly learns that the Jedi Code does not give all the answers,” Kreia says, setting the tone for Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. “If you are to truly understand then you will need the contrast, not adherence to a single idea.”

This line anticipated one of the most resonant (and controversial) themes of The Last Jedi, epitomized by Luke Skywalker’s recognition that the Jedi Code, indeed, isn’t the last word on the Force.

“I only know one truth. It’s time for the Jedi to end,” Skywalker tells Rey. Yoda himself symbolically sets the ancient Jedi ways aflame during the course of the movie.

2004’s Knights of the Old Republic 2 was well ahead of its time. Its story, characters and themes were so powerful that the game still shines over a decade after its release, despite its technical failings at the time of launch.

The game was remarkable, in part, for being one of the only elements of the Star Wars Expanded Universe to challenge basic assumptions about the Force. The Jedi may not always be a straightforward force for good, and their ideas about the Force may not always be correct.

“The Force is so much bigger” than light and dark, Skywalker says in The Last Jedi as he gives Rey her first lessons. He shows her what is truly meant by the Force “binding the universe together.” He tells her that it’s “vanity” to think that the Jedi have any final claim on the Force, or that the end of the Jedi means the end of the Force itself.

While these thoughts have often been implied by the series, not least by the existence of the Sith themselves, Luke is pointing at a larger truth. This ancient battle between light and dark doesn’t represent the be-all-end-all of what the Force is, or can be. The Jedi are not infallible. They are not even indispensable, an idea that has proven controversial among the fandom. The Jedi may have to rethink the basic ideas of what they are if they are to survive through Rey and other students we may have seen at the end of The Last Jedi.

A vocal minority of fans believe the movie turned Luke into a burned-out cynic, washed up by his failures. This misreads his character, as well as ignores one of the movie’s lessons about accepting the importance of failure as a teaching tool. But KotOR 2 demonstrates that questioning Jedi dicta in a serious way isn’t new territory for the series. Upending what we think we know about the Jedi and their authority may even be necessary if Star Wars is to both mature and renew itself for the 21st Century.

Truth From Exile

Knights of the Old Republic 2 was a bracing, stiff drink in a drought, released at a time when Star Wars couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be.

George Lucas’ disastrous prequel trilogy was at the height of its powers in late 2004. The first Knights of the Old Republic faithfully captured the straightforward, untroubled light and optimism of the original trilogy, and remains highly regarded. The Expanded Universe, meanwhile, was starting to crank out its New Jedi Order books which, while grim, felt like a completely different sci-fi series grafted onto the world of Star Wars.

Obsidian Entertainment, known for dark stories like Planescape: Torment, decided to take things in another direction by confronting the Force directly.

You play as The Exile, canonically a woman named Meetra Surik who fought in the deadly Battle of Malachor V. You learn that Surik cut herself off from the Force after that bloody conflagration, in perhaps one of the best reasons ever given for a main character to start off at level one in an RPG.

Surik then meets a beguiling old Jedi Master named Kreia who helps Surik open herself to the Force once more. “She was a teacher once,” Atris, a Jedi Archivist you meet later in the game, explains, “and every student that she trained has been a failure and brought death to the galaxy.”

Luke could relate.

Kreia is an elder who has yet to be broken by a hard life that saw her thrive — and fail — as both Jedi Master and Sith Lord, leading her to reject both. Your character, a Jedi exiled for fighting in the Mandalorian Wars, is the sort of living void that Kreia was drawn to teach.

Kreia would push the Jedi philosophy to its limits and ask a fundamental question that quietly lurked in the background of every epic Star Wars adventure: If the battle between Jedi and Sith was always so terrible, so destructive and, worst of all, so cyclical, wouldn’t the galaxy be better off without them? Kreia believes the answer is yes.

The Last Jedi broaches this topic in a different way. The character of DJ, the duplicitous codebreaker hired about halfway through the film by Finn and Rose to hack into the First Order battlecruiser, serves as the strange voice of all the little people down below who only see endless war in the skies above.

He uses the terms “good guys” and “bad guys” with an acid drop of sarcasm, arguing that “today you’ll blow them up, maybe tomorrow they’ll blow you up.” He notes that the arms dealer whose ship they stole had sold weapons to both the First Order and the Resistance. These wars are an endless dance to him, and the only way to survive them is to go into business for yourself.

Kreia felt much the same way, but her solution was much more political and radical. She wanted to obliterate the Jedi and Sith and, at the height of her magnificent madness, bring an end to the Force itself. Only then might the galaxy be free of these endless wars.

“It is their code that kills life ... their adherence to the will of the Force,” Kreia says of the Jedi.

A lightsaber as Rey passes it to Luke. Walt Disney Studios

Kreia is Luke through the looking glass. Luke ends by committing himself to an ideal of goodness that transcends the Jedi, leaving it to a new generation to rewrite the canon. That new generation will be led by Rey but, symbolically, also the audience itself. Kreia wanted to just burn the whole thing down. Neither thought the Jedi should, or even could, be reformed.

“Are you prepared to give up all that is a Jedi, entirely? Until then you will always be weak,” Kreia tells you.

Your character even has the unique ability to bind other people to you, to create bonds that enhance the power of others and perhaps even override their common sense. It’s yet another way The Sith Lords turns an RPG convention into a meaningful part of the story, and it’s a power the Jedi would have forbidden.

Even if you follow a light side path through the game’s spiderweb of moral choices, the remaining Jedi Masters will, in the end, seek to destroy you because of this. Near the game’s climax, in a dramatic encounter at the ruined Jedi Academy on Dantooine, they judge you once more and propose to cut you off from the Force yet again. This time it’s being done against your will.

“If you had stayed, you would’ve changed us, and that we could not allow,” intoned Master Zez-Kai Ell, explaining your exile. You were a “wound in the Force,” a “cipher, forming bonds, leeching the life of others.” Instead of trying to understand you, they condemn you as a Sith, saying that you “carry within you the death of the Force, and the death of the Jedi.”

One Master, dear curmudgeonly old Vrook, says openly that “you are a threat to us all.”

Kreia’s wisdom, for all her embittered flirtations with ends-justify-the-means evil, was that she recognized what these Masters truly feared: a threat to their infallibility, and the purported objectivity of the Jedi Code.

“She has brought truth and you condemn it? The arrogance. You will not harm her. You will not harm her ever again,” Kreia seethed in your defense, after dramatically intervening on the show trial. The game dared to make Jedi Masters the bad guys, and it did this without appearing cynical or nasty, without losing touch with the essence of Star Wars.

“How could you ever hope to know the threat you face when you have never walked in the dark places in the galaxy?” Kreia admonished the masters.

In the light of The Last Jedi, it’s hard not to think here of DJ’s cynicism, or the ugliness encountered by Finn and Rose on Canto Bight, the casino planet. Darkness has much to teach those who seek the light. There is more to Star Wars’ galaxy than its titular conflict, and understanding the stakes requires knowing more than the Code, whether Sith or Jedi.

For good and for ill, the Force is bigger than them both. It’s everything.

Campbell’s End

Both the game and film recognize that the Jedi/Sith dyad doesn’t exhaust the possibilities of the Force. Kreia was always meant to be a tragic figure whirling toward oblivion, worthy of the Shakespearean actress (Sara Kestelman) who provided her voice. But where Kreia wanted to liberate the galaxy from the tyranny of the Force, Luke and Rey seem to want to redeem the Force and release it to everyone in The Last Jedi. The memorable final shot of the film hammers this belief home.

The Last Jedi’s gift to us lies in its distillation of Kreia’s best insights, repackaged into something fundamentally more optimistic. Questioning the primacy of the Jedi and their promise of absolute virtue is not the end but a beginning. It’s, to borrow another phrase from The Last Jedi, the spark that will light the flame.

After all, it’s now canon to have Luke and Yoda questioning and abandoning the Jedi Code for the greater good, clearing the way for new lore and new ways to feel the Force. The deeply rooted tropes of Star Wars were deconstructed, laid bare and reassembled into something that still gives us much-needed hope. It does this all while demolishing the hero’s journey that has held us in thrall for too long.

But a video game did it first, and did it just as well, inspiring questions that still don’t have easy answers.

The next level of puzzles.

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