**Spoiler alert: The following review contains spoilers about Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) video game, released by Bioware for the original Xbox. It is one of the greatest Star Wars stories ever told. It is so great that even though it was released almost 9 years ago I’m still putting a spoiler warning. If you ever have plans on playing it (what the hell have you been waiting for?)…turn back now. You’ve been warned**
I’ve never anticipated the release of a Star Wars book more than this one. Not because the author, Drew Karpyshyn, authored what I believe to be the best trilogy of Star Wars books ever with the Darth Bane series. And not because Karpyshyn was the lead writer for the greatest Star Wars video game of all time Knights of the Old Republic. It is because he was going to be writing about a character that I helped to shape.
Allow me to explain. I’ve played through the campaign of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic five times, switching between dark and light and various types of Jedi/Sith. Through it all I had a very clear picture of who I thought Revan was. My Revan, at least. My friends had their interpretations of the character and thousands of other gamers surely had theirs.
Therein lay the challenge for Karpyshyn and the source of intense excitement for me. The character of Revan was not the creation of an author, but the gaming collective. For about 75% of the game, players didn’t even know they were actually playing as Revan, instead thinking their character was just another in a long line of Force-sensitive would be galaxy saviors (or conquerors). A blank slate for players to impose their ideal of who a hero or villain should be. By the time the big reveal came (one of the greatest moments in gaming history) the player had already established a character persona.
In writing the Revan novel, Karpyshyn was effectively creating the canon for the character. He would have to decide everything about who Revan actually was. What was his personality like? What sort of syntax does he speak with? How is he dealing with the weight of his past? Answering all of those questions just as thousands of gamers had. Talk about pressure. But Karpyshyn does so with aplomb and gives us an incredible conclusion to the Revan saga. Should we have expected anything less? After all, he was the lead writer for KOTOR.
Many years have past since the events of KOTOR and its sequel. Malak is long dead, and Revan is living out his life on Coruscant trying to find normalcy. Plagued by broken memories of a long forgotten planet and a feeling of evil lurking beyond the edge of the galaxy, Revan sets out to ensure the safety of galaxy again.
That’s as much plot development as I’m willing to give away. For fans of KOTOR there are some great return appearances from familiar faces and I don’t want to spoil any of those. Not everyone from KOTOR returns, which may dismay some people, but the book would probably have become a bit bloated if that were the case. If you aren’t a veteran of the KOTOR series you won’t be lost at all, and the gravity and tension of the story are all still there. You just might not be as swept up in the appearance of certain characters.
Where Karpyshyn really excels is in telling a Star Wars story with real consequences and some grit to it. Star Wars stories can sometimes be a bit sterile, embracing very blunt good versus evil dynamics and having battle sequences that are as clean as a cauterized lightsaber wound. Karpyshyn crafts a tale that is messy and dangerous. He isn’t afraid to engage with the concept of Jedi / Sith on a deeper level, personified by Revan himself who has touched both the light and the dark side of the Force. This type of thing was analyzed more in the Darth Bane series where a villain was actually the protagonist. Revan approaches it from a different perspective and grapples more with what really constitutes victory or defeat.
Some readers may be surprised to know that the entire book isn’t about Revan. In fact, for some parts of the story he seems like a secondary character, to Lord Scourge who takes center stage. Given the connection I felt with Revan, it was hard becoming invested in Scourge at all, but the character is suitable enough to carry out the task of moving the plot along to its penultimate moment.
If I have any issues with the book, it’s that it is over too soon, and the ending, while a nice wrap up to the Revan saga and certainly a bit unexpected, does still leave some questions. These quibbles seem to suggest my desire to see more Revan stories rather than a problem with Karpyshyn’s storytelling. In thinking about the book length (only 280 pages) I realized that this book isn’t supposed to be Revan’s story. That was already told during KOTOR. I already lived through and helped craft that story. This is merely what happened afterward, and solidifies Revan’s legacy. In that sense, you might see the book as one giant epilogue, but one that absolutely needed to be told to help wrap up one of the most compelling and beloved characters in the history of the franchise.
I can’t speak highly enough of Star Wars: The Old Republic – Revan. Taking a beloved video game character that existed in nearly endless permutations and creating an engaging universal persona was a near impossible task, but Drew Karpyshyn accomplished not only that, but he wrote a pretty damn good story to go along with it.
Star Wars: The Old Republic – Revan is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle editions.
(photo from Randomhouse.com)