Hoo boy. Strap in folks, we’ve hit our first really bad one. I’ll warn up front that this review and book contain full spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2.
Welcome to Legends of the Hydian Way, the chronicle of my attempt to read through and review all the novels that make up mainline Legends canon in chronological order. May the Force be with me.
I’ll admit finishing this book was a struggle in a way I was really not anticipating. Growing up, Knights of the Old Republic was one of my favorite video games. I have played and replayed it so many times I could practically recite every plot point and strategy to defeat a boss in the game from memory. So why then do I dislike this book, which picks up where those games left off and is even named after the protagonist of the first game? There’s too much to easily summarize.
Let’s just start with the synopsis and I’ll get into my reasons as we go. The Old Republic: Revan is written by Drew Karpyshyn, who you may recognize as the writer for both KOTOR and the Mass Effect games, and who we’ll see several more times in this project as he’s written a number of times for Star Wars. This would seem to be a good sign, since all evidence I can find indicates he was the original creator of the character Revan and so seems the perfect candidate to continue his story.
Revan begins two years after Knights of the Old Republic and some time before that game’s sequel begins. Revan is happily married to his in-game love interest Bastila Shan but is troubled by memories of his past of a world shrouded in perpetual storms. Plagued by nightmares and unable to sleep, Revan seeks out Mandalorian party member Canderous Ordo in hopes he can help to figure out what happened in his past that his brain is trying so hard to remember.
Meanwhile, in the Sith Empire, a young pureblood Sith (this is an easier way of referring to the Sith species over the order which shares its name, but he’s also a Sith in that sense) called Lord Scourge arrives on that stormy world Revan is dreaming of. It’s called Dromund Kaas and it is the throne world of the very much not destroyed Sith Empire. Depending on how you’re counting it, this is either the first Sith Empire that never died, the Second Sith Empire, or the Fourth Sith Empire. Like I said before, Legends can be confusing.
Scourge is something of a dueteragonist for this book, although his and Revan’s paths will not cross until two thirds of the way through the novel. The book frequently cuts back to Scourge’s subplot about investigating other Sith for signs of being traitors to the Emperor (not Palpatine, this is a different Emperor). During his investigations, he learns that there are many members of the ruling council of Sith (called the Dark Council because of course it is) are plotting to overthrow the Emperor because the believe he is planning to start another war with the Republic. Strangely for Sith, they seem to be very aware of their track record with doing that and view attacking the Jedi and the Republic as suicidal.
While Scourge investigates, Revan and Canderous head off to the ice world of Rekkiad to help Canderous’s clan reclaim the mask of Mandalore, an important relic Revan had hidden there years before. Whoever finds the mask is traditionally declared Mandalore, leader of all Mandalorians. The section largely serves as fanservice/setup for KOTOR 2, in which Canderous is Mandalore. It also serves as a catalyst for the first of several moments when Revan remembers a lot of exposition at once and tells someone else about it so that the audience can get filled in on backstory. (More on that later)
In this case, Revan realizes that he and Malak found evidence that the Sith Empire wasn’t destroyed as the Jedi believed and set off for the hidden world of Nathema to investigate. If you can believe it, Revan arriving at Nathema is about two thirds of the way through the book. Aside from the Scourge bits, most of the rest of the pages leading up to this point are spent alternatively setting up plot points for KOTOR 2 or name dropping characters from KOTOR 1 in an attempt to give some closure for fans.
As the book reaches the close of “Part One” both Scourge and Revan are headed for Nathema as part of their respective searches for truth. Scourge is escorted there by his master Darth Nyriss, attempting to convince him that the Emperor needs to be opposed. Revan is just going there because he went there before. Upon arrival, however, he goes into some sort of fugue state because of another flood of returning memories and Scourge shoots down the Ebon Hawk and takes the comatose Jedi prisoner.
On Nathema, Scourge learns and Revan remembers learning that Lord Vitiate, the current Sith Emperor, conducted a dark ritual there that sucked up all the Force from the planet, killed every living thing, left a seemingly permanent hole in the Force, and made him immortal. This is the first of several instances where the reader is told just how horrible Vitiate is, how he’s totally the worst Sith Lord ever, and the most powerful. It comes off like EA or Bioware or both just really, really wanted to set their villain up for the MMO this book ties into. Ultimately Vitiate doesn’t get enough screen time for all of this build up to come to much more than a load of informed attributes and a fairly weak villain. He’s powerful because he needs to be for the story but none of it feels earned. He’s just the bad guy. It actually feels like this book is trying to punch above it’s weight class and set this guy up as more of a big deal in the Star Wars universe just on the sheer scale of his limitless powers and the scope of his plan.
Back to the novel! Scourge capturing Revan signals the beginning of “Part Two” which is set three years later, just after the events of Knights of the Old Republic 2. Meetra Surik is enshrined as the official name of the protagonist of that game, and she’s talking to Bastila, who is jealous because someone else was friends with Revan before she was. It’s a study in completely failing the Bechdel test as both of them find at least three different ways to talk about Revan and only Revan.
Speaking of Revan, he’s been in jail for three years and nothing of importance has happened. Outside of the novel what has happened is that Bioware needed Revan to be doing something for three years so that the Jedi Exile (Meetra) can go find him, but didn’t want to spend more than one tie-in novel explaining what he was up to. They will resort to this penalty box treatment writ large later.
Our third protagonist in this 298 page paperback sets off to find Revan, also going to Nathema and finding evidence of the resurgent Sith Empire. She, however, manages to go incognito and infiltrate Dromund Kaas long enough to clandestinely arrange a meeting with Scourge. Scourge, for his part, misunderstands Meetra’s arrival as having been foretold by Revan during an interrogation and is shaken enough to turn over proof of Darth Nyriss’ betrayal directly to Vitiate in order to facilitate the chaos he needs to spring Revan from the dungeon.
With scarcely 50 pages left to go in the book, all of our protagonists finally meet up and Meetra returns Revan’s iconic mask, which triggers yet another memory seizure. The three hide out in a cave where Revan watches a holorecording of Bastila and his son. A son she named…Vaner. An anagram of Revan. *Groan* This isn’t even the first time someone does this in this book either since Canderous introduces Revan to the other Mandalorians as “Avner.” Bastila justifies this by saying she wants their son to remember who his father is, but I can remember my dad’s name is Jim without my parents naming me Mij so that justification is flimsy.
In the cave, Scourge, Meetra, Revan, and T3-M4 the astromech from KOTOR 1 resolve to kill Vitiate before he can launch another attack on the Republic. Revan also launches into another expository speech about how the Emperor mentally dominated himself and Malak and forced them to turn to the Dark Side, erasing a much more interesting backstory provided in KOTOR 2 casually on his way to drop the bomb that he somehow knows that Vitiate’s ultimate plan is to kill/absorb every other living thing in the universe so that no one will ever be able to kill him. Yeah. More on that later.
The climax of the book is brief but I find myself with the need to point out that it is the best executed part of the whole story. The action is thrilling, and for all the puffing up of Vitiate the book did before the final showdown the author does a good job of portraying him as a fallible villain with weaknesses when he’s actually in the room vs. when people are expositing about him. Our intrepid 4 go charging into Vitiate’s throne room, resulting in poor T3 suffering the predictable fate of an astromech droid that thinks he can take a Sith Lord in a fight. As the remaining 3 heroes square off for a final showdown with Vitiate, Scourge has a Force vision of one of the playable characters from the MMO being the one to finally defeat the Emperor and decides on an aptly Sith method of being around to help that guy in the future by stabbing Meetra in the back and helping Vitiate take Revan out of the fight. He claims the whole thing was a way of exposing the Jedi he didn’t think he could take by himself. Vitiate buys it and makes Scourge his enforcer (and somehow makes him immortal) while Revan goes back into the penalty bin to wait 300 years so he can play a disappointing and seemingly never ending role in The Old Republic MMO.
So, you’ve probbaly figured out I don’t particularly care for that book, but let’s get beyond my snarky jabs at it and actually do some analysis of what went wrong here.
First and foremost this book just tried to do too much for one novel to ever pull off. I’m not sure if it was editorially mandated or an author decision, but over the course of one novel this book attempts to:
1. Tie up loose plot threads from two separate video games.
2. Explain how a Sith Empire just appears out of nowhere to be in The Old Republic.
3. Set up a bigger, badder villain than any that has come before.
4. Explain why Revan shows up in The Old Republic 300 years later.
That’s a tall order even for a few books, much less one. Worse, by trying to shoehorn Revan into The Old Republic for name recognition, Bioware has ended up rewriting a lot of his backstory to turn him from someone IGN ranked the 12th most interesting Star Wars Character of All Time (out of 100) into a perennial failure who refused to learn from his mistakes.
We see this illustrated in several ways. First, in KOTOR 2, Kreia (Revan’s master in the Jedi Order before she went cuckoo) theorizes that Revan found evidence of a threat so severe the Republic in it’s current form could not survive it. She further guesses based on what she knew of Revan that his turn to the Dark Side and invasion were what TVTropes would call a Xanatos Gambit. If he won, the Republic would survive under his militarized regime and could be reformed afterward. If he lost, the Republic would be made strong enough by the war with him to overcome the unforseen threat. This is at the very least an interesting character choice: to intentionally become the villain of the story in hopes of getting the heroes to prepare for something worse. It’s nuanced and worth debating the right and wrong of this course of action.
Instead, this book tells us that Revan and Malak got caught like idiots trying to assassinate Vitiate on their own and had their minds “dominated” by his ever growing list of Force abilities we haven’t seen anyone else use before. All of the moral nuance is gone in favor of simple mind control. In fact this makes Malak’s fate reslly depressing when you realize Revan basically killed a mind-slave of the real villain.
This gets even worse when you see that an older, wiser Revan’s solution to discovering all of this is to try the exact same plan again of busting down the palace doors to stab Vitiate in the face. The Old Republic would go on to exacerbate the problem and do further damage to a previously interesting character, but I’m trying my best to stick to just this book.
As I mentioned above, this novel is crippled by it’s reliance on Revan or others simply telling another character all of the background information. We learn almost nothing at all in this book from watching characters do things. Almost all of the exposition is delivered in speeches or memories suddenly flooding back to Revan. It’s lazy and uninteresting and frustrating all at once.
Finally, Vitiate as a villain is weak. He only shows up in the last third of the book (less than that but I’m being generous based on when we actually learn who he is) and is actually in all of two scenes (3 if you count the epilogue). He doesn’t do much beyond serving as an insurmountable obstacle for the protagonists and being painted as a nearly Lovecraftian horror. Several times characters refer to him as the capital-V Void, which feels unearned. We only ever know Vitiate as a threat, not a character.
So, after all of that, we’re left with final thoughts. Revan is a hasty attempt to capitalize on the popularity of two excellent video games to promote an ok third game. It sacrifices much of what fans loved about the characters and outright fridges the protagonist of the second game on the altar of getting Revan from the past to the future so he could appear in The Old Republic. Legends has highs and lows like any other fictional universe, but I wasn’t expecting to hit such a pronounced low this early in my read through.
Next time we dive into another tie-in to The Old Republic and see if it holds more water than Revan.