Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is possibly the best Star Wars story outside of the original movies. Despite being 15 years old, the game still has quite the cult following, thanks in large part to its excellent characters.
These characters include the dashing rogue Atton Rand, the traumatized ex-Sith Visas Marr, and the bloodthirsty HK-47, who puts the “sass” in “assassin droid.”
But none of the game’s characters have the depth or brilliance of Kreia, a blind old woman who you find passed out, but still very much alive, in a morgue during the game’s introduction. While players very quickly get the sense that something is off about her, none have any idea that by the end of the game, Kreia will turn your expectations of her, as well the entire morality of the Star Wars saga, upside down.
Both of the Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) games have a light/dark morality system, with your character’s choices affecting their, and sometimes their companions’, alignments in the Force, with players who are 100% light or dark getting certain statistical bonuses. These bonuses entice players to go fully light or dark, even if that means making otherwise nonsensical choices, such as blindly firing a grenade launcher into a packed cantina or allowing someone to use one of your aliases to sign up as a mercenary, even when you know that person has no chance of surviving a battle (yes, you get light side points for the latter).
While the first KOTOR makes players go along with this simplistic at best system, Kreia has absolutely none of it in KOTOR II.
Upon arriving on the hive of scum and villainy that is Nar Shaddaa, your character is confronted by a refugee asking for some credits. You can either help the man or tell him to pound sand, with the respective options giving you either light or dark side points. In KOTOR I, you would have made your choice, with that choice followed by a cutscene and a notification that you received either light or dark side points before going merrily on your way. Kreia does things rather differently.
After you make your decision about whether to help the refugee, Kreia shows you the consequences of your actions (the refugee is either robbed or becomes a robber himself) and chastises you for thinking so simply.
There are similar examples throughout the game where Kreia rejects the binary logic that’s so prominent in the Star Wars galaxy as a whole, showing how the Jedi’s blind selflessness and pacifism hurt the people they claim to protect most, whereas the Sith’s sadism and endless infighting stop them from doing anything meaningful.
Early in the game, players familiar with the old Star Wars expanded universe will likely think the Kreia is a gray Jedi. Gray Jedi are light-side users who disagree with the order’s tenets, usually considering them to be too regimented and dogmatic to effectively protect the galaxy. One of them, Jolee Bindo, is actually a party member in the first KOTOR. It’s also strongly hinted that Kreia used to be Jedi Master Erren Kae, and Kae’s robes are unlockable in the game.
The idea of Kreia as a gray Jedi is destroyed on Nar Shaddaa, when she revives a bounty hunter you fight there. Not long after, she reveals to you that she used to be Darth Traya, leader of the Sith Triumvirate before her two apprentices, Darth Sion and Darth Nihilus (both of whom are now hunting you) overthrew her, stripping her of the Force, a power which she has only just begun to recover.
Later in the game, Kreia again acts like a Sith, reviving a general allied to Nihilus. Her return to the dark side is seemingly cemented on Dantooine, when she confronts and slaughters the remnants of the Jedi Council. She even retakes the name Darth Traya before going back to her academy on Malachor V, where she waits for you.
Again, this seems like a typical Star Wars plot: secret Sith lord lures young Jedi to their planet, where they try to turn them. But it’s on Malachor where Traya’s brilliance is revealed. She does not want to merely turn one character to the dark side, or even to rule the galaxy. Her goal is nothing less than the total and utter destruction of the Force.
To Kreia, the Force itself is inherently evil. It rules the galaxy on a whim, orchestrating wars on a monolithic scale, leaving trillions to die in the crossfire over the millennia.
She uses the events that nearly destroyed Malachor to make her point. Just in the prior fifteen years, the Force, acting mainly through the Jedi and Sith, has taken this series of bloody, convoluted steps to “balance” the galaxy:
- Coaxed the Mandalorians out of the Unknown Regions, leading them to ravage and enslave hundreds of planets in their attacks on the Republic.
- Split the Jedi Order between those who wanted to respond immediately (a group which included Erren Kae) and those who wanted to wait, feeling that there was something deeper going on. The former group fought for years against the Mandalorians.
- Drew both sides into a climactic battle on Malachor.
- Nearly destroyed Malachor in that battle, which cracked the planet’s crust and turned many of the soldiers who fought there into mutant beasts. The scale of death and suffering drove the vast majority of the Jedi survivors, including Nihilus, to the dark side.
- Unleashed these new Sith on the galaxy for the next fifteen years, with another galaxy-wide war and the genocides of Taris and Katarr, among other planets, as well as a near-total purge of the remaining Jedi.
Convincing as Traya is about the Force being the villain in the KOTOR era, you don’t need to have played the games to see that she has a point; instead just look at the nine films of the Skywalker Saga.
Before The Phantom Menace, the galaxy isn’t quite balanced to the Force’s liking, so it makes a slave woman have a virgin birth, then tortures that child, killing his mother and giving him visions of his wife’s death, as well as starting a galaxy-wide war just to turn him to the dark side. Once he’s turned, the Force makes him slaughter children and create an iron-fisted Empire which rules for decades before it’s overthrown in yet another war.
As if nearly 50 years of conflict and dictatorship wasn’t enough, many of the same people who fought in those initial wars have to do it again 30 years later, against the same enemy, because apparently the galaxy just wasn’t balanced enough for the Force’s liking yet. This second war leads to the deaths of countless people in the destruction of Hosnian Prime and Kijimi, not to mention all the other worlds ruled by the First Order. If the galaxy has any luck, maybe the Force will finally be satiated for a bit. I doubt it.
Going back to KOTOR II, its final scene also proves Traya right. After she explains her grand plan, she makes you an offer: help her destroy the Force once and for all, or kill her. In a game where you can choose everything from the individual components of your lightsaber to who joins your ship’s crew to which faction governs each planet you visit, you aren’t even given a chance to make a decision. You are Forced to kill Traya, regardless of whether you’re convinced by her argument or not.
In the end, there is no free will; there is death. Add that to the Jedi Code.
Freddie Bastiat is a law student whose real name you’ll find out once Andrew Kaczynski doxxes him. He’s a fan of Yoko Taro games, college football, and the restoration of the Byzantine and Achaemenid Empires. You can find him on Twitter @Tht_Fat_Bastiat.