Ten Years On: Knights of the Old Republic
Since the first screening of The Phantom Menace, some might even argue as far back as Return of the Jedi, a curious inverse correlation has become apparent with regard to Star Wars, namely the more lightsabers a Star Wars film features, the worse it tends to be. The earlier films feature far more space dogfights and hanging out with alien gangsters than they do fighting with magic laser sticks, whereas the prequel trilogy are so abundant with lightsabers you'd think they grew on really dangerous trees.
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The trend is evident in games too. Many of the better Star Wars games; Dark Forces, the X-Wing series, Galactic Battlegrounds and Republic Commando are all devoid of po-faced Jedi wielding deadly neon tubes, opting for more novel ways to explore and expand the Star Wars Universe (and George Lucas' wallet). It isn't simply the case that lightsaber = bad Star Wars game, there are exceptions such as the excellent Jedi Knight games. It's more that those films and games which don't really understand Star Wars immediately reach for the lightsaber as a crutch, which is a terrible idea as it will burn straight through your armpit.
Knights of the Old Republic is something of an anomalous result, as it probably features more lightsabers than the rest of the canon combined, yet it is astonishingly good, and not just in the "a lot of silly fun" way that the Jedi Knight games are good.
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The way it deals with the lightsaber issue demonstrates this perfectly. From the very beginning of the game, heck, from the moment you lay eyes on the title, it's clear that it will feature Jedi in a big way. But the gratification of owning Star Wars' most iconic weapon is delayed. For the first few hours you're not allowed so much as a sniff of the Force, and any mention of constructing your own weaponised glowstick is a planet and a half away.
Instead, Kotor initially casts your lot with the other, grimier side of Star Wars, seeing the player trapped on the planet Taris by an enormous Sith blockade of starships. Any hope of escape lies in dealing with Taris' criminal underworld, liaising with Hutt cartels, corrupt businessmen and slave traders, and participating in underground swoop races and getting into blaster fights with scum and villainy from all corners of the galaxy.
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It's much more Solo than Skywalker, the tone further set by the personalities of your initial companions. Carth Onasi, the honourable yet cynical soldier and pilot, Mission Vao, the cocky but inexperienced Twi'lek tween and her exiled Wookie companion Zaalbaar. All are burdened in some way by their past, and their personalities often conflict, resulting in arguments in which you often have to intervene, cleverly drawing you into their stories.
And these are supposedly the light side characters; we haven't even mentioned the magnificently masculine Mandalorian Canderous Ordo, or the misanthropic assassin droid HK-47 - perhaps the most famous of all the Kotor characters with his penchant for casually referring to humans as 'meatbags' and politely suggesting mass murder as a solution to almost every problem the player encounters.