Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – A Movie Trilogy in the Making

BioWare and Obsidian’s Old Republic games are ripe with cinematic potential. Here’s why we really want a film adaptation...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK. It contains spoilers…

Lucasfilm recently announced that The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson is developing a brand new Star Wars trilogy. This new triumvirate of Star Wars movies will be “separate from the episodic Skywalker saga” that has dominated the franchise’s cinematic output thus far.

Millions of fans suddenly cried out in anticipation, declaring that BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) games would be the perfect blueprint for a new Star Wars film trilogy. That’s despite the fact that Lucasfilm has clearly stated that Johnson’s trilogy “will introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored.” Johnson himself subsequently confirmed that, as much as he loves the games, they won’t be the source for his upcoming films.

Set within the ancient history of the Star Wars universe, there have so far been three games in the KotOR series: the addictive RPG Knights of the Old Republic, which came out in 2003; a direct sequel dubbed The Sith Lords, which landed in 2004; and finally The Old Republic, which debuted in 2011, a sort-of sequel which moved the series into the MMO arena.

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But what is so great about the KotOR games? Why are they so ripe for cinematic adaptation? Even though Johnson is probably working on something completely different with his trilogy of movies, it’s still worth taking a couple of minutes to reflect on how wonderfully KotOR could fit into the filmic landscape….

The Focus

When the first KotOR game came out in 2003, the cinematic branch of the Star Wars saga was muddling its way through the prequels. The latest installment was Attack of the Clones, which explored Anakin Skywalker’s backstory by revisiting Tatooine and showed Obi-Wan uncovering the Clone Army of proto-stormtroopers. Clones also featured CGI Yoda doing backflips and the Sith briefly showcasing their Death Star plans. Essentially, this was a time when Star Wars movies were obsessed with looking back, teasing popular elements that fans had already seen in the Original Trilogy.

Perhaps this is why KotOR became so popular. While the movies were cashing in on nostalgia, BioWare decided to explore something else entirely with an expansive and original RPG. The first KotOR game takes place approximately 4,000 years before the rise of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, providing plenty of space for the writers to tell a whole new Star Wars story.

This is not a game about fathers and sons, masters and apprentices, or even Rebels and Imperials. The main villain is Darth Malak, who, at the start of the game, has already amassed an armada of Sith and soldiers to destabilize the Old Republic and scatter its Jedi contingent. The amnesiac player character wakes up aboard a Republic Ship, which is under attack from Malak. And from here, a truly unique narrative unfolds.

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The Freedom

After the initial altercation on that aforementioned Republic spaceship, the player is paired up with a pilot named Carth Onasi. Together, they escape the ship and end up on a city planet named Telos. This planet is under Malak’s control and swarming with Sith, which immediately creates a sense of tension unlike anything in the prequel movies. The player and Carth quickly work out that they aren’t the only outcasts on this planet: the revered Jedi Bastilla Shan is also knocking about, with the Sith forces hot on her heels.

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From this point onwards, now that you’ve learned the controls, the training wheels are off. There’s a real sense of freedom, as the player is offered multiple ways to navigate every conversation, every mission, and every moral dilemma. If you want your character to be a bad guy, you can be horrible to people and learn dark side skills like Force Lightning. You can choose to find a sneaky way to achieve your goals, or you can embrace bloodletting and kill a bunch of people.

Obviously, the established narrative structure of movies doesn’t work like this. The original KotOR experience was different for each player because the game was so vast and choice-based. To be turned into a movie, you would need a screenwriter or two to hammer out one canonical chain of events. It’s impossible to translate the exact KotOR experience into film.

However, with the right writers tackling said script, an element of unpredictability and narrative freedom could remain. The protagonist of the KotOR movie could be an enigma, flitting between light and dark, with his true motivations – and his past – initially being unclear to the viewer. After decades of sinister Sith and righteous good guys, an unpredictable central character is exactly what the Star Wars film franchise needs.

The Familiarity

Since the Disney takeover, it has become increasingly apparent that the Star Wars film franchise still owes a huge debt to George Lucas’ original vision. Filmmakers have tried to veer away from the established tone: Gareth Edwards shot Rogue One as a gritty handheld-camera war movie, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller attempted to bring their loosey-goosey improvisational comedy skills to Solo. But, in both cases, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy reined things in and brought in a safe pair of hands (Tony Gilroy for Rogue One and Ron Howard for Solo) to finish the project in a more traditional Star Wars-y way.

It seems safe to assume, then, that any new Star Wars films – including Rian Johnson’s upcoming trilogy – will need to match the established tone of the wider franchise. Moving away from the Skywalker story is a big leap in of itself, so you wouldn’t expect Lucasfilm to throw the baby out with the bath water and ditch lightsabers, space battles, and dodgy wipe-based editing transitions as well. These are the things that make Star Wars, and they will need to remain in some form.

This is another reason why KotOR fits the bill for cinematic adaptation so perfectly. It may have all-new characters and a position in the (non-canon) timeline far removed from the original films, but KotOR still has an opening crawl, parps of John Williams’ music, a baddie with robotic upgrades, lightsaber duels, space battles, snarky droids, and big twists. It still feels like Star Wars, even though so much is fresh and unfamiliar.

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After saving Bastilla on Telos and taking a brief visit to the Jedi Academy on Dantooine, the player character is given his main mission: to visit numerous planets and learn more about the Star Forge, a powerful weapon in Malak’s arsenal, the location of which is unknown. This may not be a mission to destroy a Death Star or a Starkiller Base, but the similarities are sufficient to make KotOR feel like it takes place in that same universe.

The Characters

If Lucasfilm turned KotOR into a film or three, there would be plenty of familiar elements to draw audiences in, and enough new stuff to stop them from getting bored. That’s a real sweet spot, which could make Lucasfilm and Disney a lot of box office dosh.

The central mission to learn about and locate the Star Forge takes the player to some familiar worlds (Skywalker home planet Tatooine and Wookiee world Kashyyyk) as well as some new ones: Manaan, which is inhabited by grumbly fish people; Korriban, home of a Sith temple; and Rakata Prime, a tropic planet which bears similarities to Rogue One‘s Scarif.

Across this journey, the player adds more characters to his party. The game makes the most of the fact that Jedi and Sith both exist in the open at this point in the Star Wars story: as well as Bastilla, who feels the pull of romantic love and the dark side, despite her extensive Jedi training, you can also recruit Juhani (a slave who became a Jedi and briefly fell to the dark side), and Jolee Bindo (a “gray” Jedi who abandoned the Jedi Order to live in neutrality and exile). The player character is also Force sensitive, and is constantly presented with chances to embrace the dark side.

KotOR did a great job of expanding what it means to be a Force user. Rather than just showing Jedi as goodies and the Sith as baddies, it explores the idea that any character can fall to the dark side and that living in the middle is also an option. Given that The Last Jedi explores the “the balance” of the Force, it seems like writer-director Rian Johnson is interested in similar themes.

Other characters in your party include Mandalorian mercenary Canderous Ordo (who loves telling war stories and encouraging dark choices), the sarcastic assassin droid HK-47, the trusty assistant T3-M4, a Twi’lek teenager named Mission Vao, and her Wookiee chum Zaalbar. It’s an interesting group of characters, which could translate winningly into live-action cinema.

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In terms of villains, as well as Malak, the player character clashes with gang lords, bounty hunters, tribe leaders, scaly politicians, and various Sith apprentices while travelling the galaxy in search of clues. This was a brilliant expansion of the Star Wars character roster, and a film adaptation could serve a similar world-building purpose.

The Structure

There are a couple of ways in which KotOR could be adapted into a film trilogy. The first game is so vast, taking tens of hours to play through, that it could be split into three films. The protagonist wakes up with amnesia at the start of the first film and finally defeats Malak at the end of the third one. In between, you could show the main character training to be a Jedi before journeying the galaxy in search of clues, and getting into numerous scrapes along the way.

If the screenwriters peppered a few encounters with Malak into each of the three films, Lucasfilm would end up with a new Star Wars trilogy with a structure similar to the original movies. The main character goes from zero to hero over the course of three films, and ultimately defeats the big bad on board his evil space station. The new locations, characters, and status quo (an ancient war between the Jedi and the Sith) would still provide plentiful new material.

However, the KotOR game series showed another way of making this into a three-part story experience. The original player character defeated Malak at the end of the first game. The second game, The Sith Lords, focused on a new main character known as The Jedi Exile, who met a new set of supporting players and unravelled a wider Sith conspiracy. The first game’s hero is nowhere to be found in the second game, having gone into hiding for reasons unexplained.

All became clear in a tie-in novel, Revan by Drew Karpyshyn, in which the Jedi Exile manages to locate the first game’s protagonist – after the events of The Sith Lords – and stumbles into yet another Sith conspiracy (even wider than the previous two Sith conspiracies). The two heroes fight side by side, which is a nice moment of fan service for long-time followers of the KotOR series. The MMORPG The Old Republic followed on from this encounter and allowed fans to learn more.

If Lucasfilm really wanted to branch out and tread new ground, this would be one way to do it. Rather than showcasing one hero’s three-film quest to defeat one main villain, the KotOR film trilogy could pit two protagonists against an ever-shifting roster of Sith enemies. The first film could cover the events of Knights of the Old Republic, the second one could tackle The Sith Lords, and the third film could bring both heroes together like in the Revan novel.

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This would certainly be a less conventional film trilogy than the turn-the-first-game-into-three-films approach. And, if it were executed well, the third film’s team-up element could garner a lot of hype. Crossovers are a hot currency in Hollywood at the moment, after all.

However, The Sith Lords, Revan, and The Old Republic are all somewhat divisive in the KotOR fandom. Plus, none of these stories are canon anymore, which means that Lucasfilm might be hesitant to bring them back in their complete form. If Lucasfilm does want to turn the KotOR franchise into a movie trilogy, the studio would need to cut out a lot of stuff and streamline the story.

Warning: don’t read any further if you don’t know the big twist from the first KotOR game…

The first KotOR game is most deserving of a big screen adaptation. And there’s one main reason for that: the massive ruddy twist that turns the game on its head around the halfway point.

I’m talking, of course, about the revelation that the player character is Darth Revan, Malak’s best mate and former master, who fell to the dark side at the same time as the metal-mouthed big bad. Bastilla helped wipe Revan’s mind shortly before the game kicked off in the hope that this would turn the powerful Force user back to the light.

I was at secondary school when the first KotOR game came out, and this twist was an incredibly hot topic of conversation. But back then it was just Star Wars geeks and avid gamers that knew about it. If KotOR became a cinematci event, millions more people would get to experience this immense rug-pull moment.

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Again, adapting this element of KotOR into the medium of moviemaking would take some work. It worked so well in the game because you had been playing as that character for hours before the twist. You were a Sith Lord, and you didn’t even know it. To make this work on the big screen, Lucasfilm would need a script that presented its amnesiac protagonist as both enigmatic and likeable. Viewers need to be invested in the character for the Revan twist to mean anything.

Arguably, to pull this off, it would take more than one movie, so I’m leaning towards the option of the first KotOR game being split into three films. The first film could establish the main character as a hero worth rooting for, only for the second film to strip that away with the Revan twist (deployed around the same time, and with as much emotional heft, as “I am your father” in The Empire Strikes Back).

This would leave us with a third film where Revan faces off with Malak, and the viewer isn’t sure whether Revan is on the light side or the dark at this point. An unpredictable final act like that, surely, would make this a movie trilogy worth watching.