Book Review: Knights of the Old Republic, by Alex Kane.
So how ’bout that new Star Wars trailer?
Personally, I’m just a bit leery. As on the one hand, I’m all for Rey and Co. having cool space adventures. On the other … I’m not sure if I have enough confidence in J.J. Abrams to put together a satisfying ending.
But! That’s not what this blog post is about. Rather, instead of talking about a movie that isn’t out yet, let’s look at a book that just came out! Namely, Boss Fight Books‘ Knights of the Old Republic, which is about the 2003 video game, Knights of the Old Republic.
Widely acclaimed as one of the best Star Wars video games ever made, Knights of the Old Republic is set thousands of years before the events of the Star Wars movies, and follows the adventures of a young Jedi going around and having various space adventures. Knights of the Old Republic was made by Bioware, and established a lot of elements that would go on to be their specialties: quirky NPC’s, solid voice acting (including the ever-wonderful Jennifer Hale), and a good guy/bad guy axis, determined by player choices. There’s a direct line of influence from Knights of the Old Republic to later Bioware games like Jade Empire and Mass Effect. (Sidenote: I don’t think we’ll ever get a Jade Empire sequel and this makes me sad).
In Knights of the Old Republic, Alex Kane presents a comprehrensive history of the production of the game, from how Bioware (at the time, a scrappy young studio) got the license, how they put together the setting and plot (along with the game’s famous twist), the casting of the voice acting, and more. The book is very well researched, featuring interviews and anecdotes from just about everyone who was anyone involved with the production of the game.
In that, Knights of the Old Republic is an essential read for fans of the old video game, as it offers a ton of insight into how such a sprawling and ambitious game was put together.
That’s … about all Kane has to offer in Knights of the Old Republic. Don’t get me wrong, he does what he sets out to do, and he does it well– it’s just that I think I’ve been spoiled by earlier works from Boss Fight Books. The best Boss Fight Books have more to to talk about than ‘just’ a video game. Mega Man 3 talks about speedrunning, and the rise of retro-gaming culture (with an accompanying rise in old cartridge prices). Metal Gear Solid is a personal story about growing up and how nostalgia doesn’t always endure the test of time. Soft and Cuddly paints an unflattering portrait of life in Thatcher-era Britain, and so on. In contrast, Knights of the Old Republic is about … how they made Knights of the Old Republic.
Kane makes a few nods to the game’s legacy in the book, be it through snuck-in cameos in the movies or out and out action figures or whatever. However, I would’ve liked to see Kane go even deeper in this respect, examining where Knights of the Old Republic fit into the grander scheme of the Star Wars franchise. Like, with the amount of control Disney has over the franchise right now, I’m not sure if Knights of the Old Republic would be made today.
Likewise, Kane (or rather, his interviewees) do mention the grueling work schedule they were under to produce the game, often working eighteen hour days under looking deadlines, but he doesn’t editorialize on it. “Crunch time” has long been a crutch and a bane to AAA game development, one that is getting more and more attention, but Kane just kind of passes it off as “the way things are done.” Likewise, EA’s purchase (and vice-like squeezing) of Bioware is brought up, but never really discussed in depth. It just feels like a wasted opportunity, to be honest.
Confession time: I’ve never really played Knights of the Old Republic. Not in depth, at least. As such, I read Knights of the old Republic more from the perspective of a general Star Wars fan, rather than a devotee of the game. As such, those readers who are super-hardcore fans might get a lot more out of the book than I did.
And hey, Knights of the Old Republic is going for ten bucks on Steam these days. Which … I’ll probably bite the bullet and nab it at some point– it’s just that I don’t have the time to sit down and play long-ass video games like I used to. That, and Stardew Valley is freaking addictive, man. You’re lucky I was able to get away from the farm long enough to write this blog post.