by John Jackson Miller and Brian Ching
Once upon a time, Knights of the Old Republic was one of my favorite series. I was wrapped up in the adventures of Zayne Carrick, the Padawan learner who was framed for murder by his own Jedi teachers. I was captivated by his forced exile, enthralled by the cast of characters caught in his orbit and mesmerized by his quest for redemption.
That story came to a stunning conclusion in issue 35. Knights of the Old Republic did not. The series continued to follow Zayne’s adventures but it no longer had a focus now that Zayne had cleared his name. Zayne became a relatively ordinary adventurer. Perhaps he was more compassionate and moral than most. But the series missed his former drive and sense of direction. I eventually gave up. Not long after that, Dark Horse gave up as well and the series ended with issue 50.
I’m glad I did. The final six issues, comprising the “Destroyer” and “Demon” stories, rivaled Knights of the Old Republic at its peak. Perhaps its because the series now had a definite end point in mind, but KOTOR had a renewed sense of purpose. That focus gave the stories energy and made everything more compelling.
So how did KOTOR find a renewed sense of direction? By shifting focus away from its lead character. As I mentioned earlier, Zayne Carrick’s story was finished. He had defeated the conspiracy behind his initial betrayal. He had restored his name. He had done everything he set out to do. However, along the way, he had collected an interesting group of friends. There was Gryph the con man, Jarael the former slave and Rohlan the Mandalorian exile. Their stories weren’t finished.
KOTOR shifted its primary focus to Jarael. She was Zayne’s romantic love interest. And she had a mysterious past as a former slave and a runaway. Zayne and Jarael set out to take down the Crucible, the slave ring that had been Jarael’s home for most of her youth. However, the more their quest moved forward, the more it dredged up questions about Jarael’s past.
Like the prison lackey who is given a nightstick by the warden in order to keep the other prisoners in line, Jarael had become an overseer of the slave pens. She was still a victim. But she had alleviated her suffering by further victimizing others. The revelations tested Zayne’s attraction for Jarael and his desire to continue the quest. After all, he had kept his moral bearings even when on the run from the established guardians of law and order. The revelations also gave greater depth to their rivalry with Chantique, the new Crucible trainer. She was not merely a slave trainer. She was Jarael’s darker image. Plus, the revelations heightened Jarael’s personal story. She was fighting for more than the destruction of the Crucible. She was fighting for her own redemption. In all of those ways, Knights of the Old Republic intensified the emotional impact of their closing story. These weren’t merely revelations. They were reasons to become invested in the characters and the story again.
Meanwhile, KOTOR maintained a secondary focus on the Mandalorian Rohlan. He had always been a quiet, stoic figure- typical of Mandalorians. Yet Zayne and the others knew that there had to be more to Rohlan’s disgrace and subsequent exile.
Rohlan’s back-story became entwined with the Mandalorian scientist Demagol. Demagol was the Star Wars equivalent of Joseph Mengele, a scientist who conducted cruel experiments on sentient subjects. This also intensified the tension and interest in KOTOR. Zayne and his allies weren’t trying to fix any ol’ mistake. They were squaring off against one of the biggest villains in the universe and tackling some of the deepest moral questions.
Demagol’s history neatly crossed over with Jarael’s, bringing the two plots together for one gigantic conclusion in which anything and everything could happen. There were mistaken identities and big guest stars (Darth Malak and Saul Karath from the KOTOR video game made key appearances). There were revelations and confessions. The fights had emotional impact. The outcome was uncertain until the very end. And even the lead had a vested interest, due to his strong friendship for one character and romantic affection for the other.
Knights of the Old Republic may have muddled along for a little while but it went out with a bang.