The legacy of the Old Republic lives on as Alex Kane dives into Star Wars’ past with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a making-of book by Boss Fight Books!
Star Wars games have unfortunately been hit or miss over the past few decades. For every Star Wars: The Force Unleashed or Star Wars: Battlefront there’s a Masters of Teras Kasi or Super Bombad Racing. Even up till now a franchise that is ripe with amazing gaming potential seems to be lacking in a solid, streamlined vision of how to tackle the platform. However, during the buzz and excitement of the prequel era, 2003 to be exact, one game would emerge and take not only Star Wars, but the whole RPG genre by storm, and help shape the story of Star Wars irrevocably. Of course its BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and it’s the subject of the twentieth Boss Fight Book by author Alex Kane.
Star Wars is one of those franchises where its rabid, die-hard fans want to know EVERYTHING about ANYTHING. Whether it has to do with the story and the film-making process to what equipment was used to capture the images. From the model makers right down to what the craft-services person saw while on set, people need to know. Unfortunately not all of the ancillary content that’s produced alongside the film saga gets the same behind-the-scenes treatment, even though it is well deserved in many cases.
That is what makes this book so special. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a smash success of a game and added much to the lore that is still influencing the franchise today. Its impact is undeniable and it holds a dear place in the hearts of so many that it was long overdue in having its story told in a manner that pays it the love and respect it deserves. This book does just that.
Game development articles can be a dime a dozen but Kane’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is so much more than that. Going beyond the “how it all got started” it instead chooses to start back even further and sets the stage and casts the actors that would craft this iconic game. Introducing readers to former LucasArts producer Haden Blackman, former LucasArts president Simon Jeffery and former employee Mike Gallo among many others. Maybe in the grand scheme of things lesser known characters but nonetheless vital to the games success and worthy of having their story finally told in full and it’s apparent that the author knows exactly what pieces to focus on for this retrospective.
There were about thirty of us in the room. And they said ‘Okay guys. We have two offers on the table, and here they are.’ They said, ‘One’s from Sony,’ without really giving any details. Just: ‘It’s from Sony, and it’s an RPG.’ It was vague. Then, ‘And the other one’s Star Wars.’ And all the air left the room.
Kane, through interviews with former employees, takes readers into the very beginning of the process that recounts the state of LucasArts in the mid to late 90’s. It also gives a brief history on the company that would ultimately produce the legendary game; BioWare. Interviews with James Ohlen, the projects lead designer at BioWare, tell the tale of first getting the word that they would be working on the license to how they decided to incorporate traditional table-top role-playing game mechanics into the experience. Casual gamers may not fully appreciate the time spent establishing exactly how the action was to play out but here the book really imparts how much thought and care was involved in it. Making sure it felt like an RPG without losing that fast-paced Star Wars feel. These are the details that are truly integral to what make Knights of the Old Republic a beloved classic.
Another area touched on in the book is how closely LucasArts and BioWare worked with Lucasfilm and in some cases George Lucas himself in the approval process. During this time most of what was released outside the movies was only loosely considered canon at best. Lucas had a sort of “3-Tier system” back then but Knights of the Old Republic seemed to get more attention from on high than other media of the day.
Crafting The Mythology
Alex also digs down deep and brings to the surface the details on how the design for the game was created based on the concept of Lucas’ “used universe”. The design team wanted to maintain that feel even in a story that was set thousands of years before the events in the films. Lead designer John Gallagher recounts in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic his opportunity to field questions and receive advice from the apex of the Star Wars artistic pantheon; Ralph McQuarrie. It’s a wonderfully narrated several pages in the book that really encapsulates just how exhilarating it would be for most to sit at the legends feet and learn.
That particular chapter then transitions into design evolution and traits for the roster of amazing, iconic characters in the game. So many memorable heroes and villains came out of this game and have stood the test of time and are still around today. The backstory behind their creation adds a weight to them but also drives home that even the most important details don’t necessarily start out as such. Sometimes things just come together perfectly on-accident. Just like the films themselves the project was lightning in a bottle.
Here Alex weaves together some peaks into the creative process and out of that comes some not-so-commonly known fun facts about characters like the sarcastic murder-droid HK-47 and how he got his moniker. Other details include the visually striking antagonist, Darth Malak, and how his most distinguishing feature almost didn’t happen and the thought process behind Darth Revan and his menacing look.
There’s also an entire chapter devoted to the immense voice-over work that is a pillar of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Traditional role-playing games are extremely text-heavy and voice-over director Darragh O’Farrell explains that just wasn’t going to cut it here. Star Wars is a cinematic experience and that needs to be reflected in the gameplay. What came out of that position was one of the most ambitious projects that either LucasArts or BioWare had undertaken to date. Over 15,000 lines of dialogue divvied up between about 300 speaking characters!
Some of the best of the best in voice-over appeared in this game and many who would continue to voice for Star Wars got there start right here. Tom Kane, Jennifer Hale and newcomer Cat Taber, who would go on to voice Padme Amidala in Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars series for six seasons all had parts to play in the hours of recorded dialogue that players would discover over the course of their adventures.
It’s an immense undertaking, not just the games production, but telling the story of the games production in a linear fashion from concept and idea to unleashing the game onto the world. And Alex Kane absolutely nails it.
The emotions of all those involved are captured perfectly in this book. The reader gets to feel what those who were intimately enmeshed in the project felt being a part, even a small part, of this monumental gaming success story. Their passion bleeds right through in these interviews as their incredible story is finally being told for all to enjoy. From it’s own influences to the way it is still influencing story elements now after over a decade and a half this book has it all.
There is a legacy behind this game and the content it produced, the story elements it added to the mythos that is felt and seen everywhere today. The book not only takes the time to explore its continued impact, but becomes a part of the story itself.
Clocking in at about 100 pages, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is an exciting read that one could knock out in an afternoon. Not just for Star Wars fans, or fans of the game itself, but also for fans of this level of detail about the creative process involved. One worthy of being up on the shelf right next to The Making of Star Wars.
And with all the rumors of The Old Republic coming back, potentially as films, what better way to get ahead of the hype.
Mike Harris hails from the suburbs of Chicago and has been a fan for most of his life. Working as an industrial radiographer and raising a family with his wife take up most of his time, but there’s always room for Star Wars books and podcasts! Just looking to give back to Star Wars and the fan community, it’s been a source of fun and learning for him for so long.