Review: Star Wars The Old Republic - Revan / Author: Drew Karpyshyn / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: June 22nd
The original Knights of the Old Republic game was released only a couple of months into this writer’s second year of university and it's safe to say that it, along with its sequel a year later, provided dangerous distraction from many of my assignments.
Set just shy of 4,000 years before the original trilogy, the game told the story of Revan, a Jedi Knight who defied the Jedi Council to help the Republic wage war against the Mandalorians, disappeared and then returned with his apprentice and an army of dark-siders to attempt to enslave the Republic. During the course of the game, Revan was seen to be betrayed by his apprentice and captured by the Jedi. He then gathered a crew of companion characters together and set off to defeat his former apprentice; players could choose to make Revan return to the light-side and save the Republic or fall back to the dark-side to enslave them all. The canon ending is that Revan returned to the light and fell in love with companion character and fellow Jedi, Bastilla Shan. The novel begins two years after the end of the first game and three years before the second, but finishes after the end of KotORII. If you haven't played these games and are getting a little lost; don't panic. Whilst the book is certainly better if you come to it with the knowledge gained from playing the games, it explains everything that one needs to know; beginners, fear not.
The book follows former-Darth Revan as he begins to piece together the missing fragments of his memories and attempts to track down the hidden threat from the Unknown Regions that turned him to the Dark Side in the first place. He aids former ally, the Mandalorian mercenary, Canderous Ordo before setting out for the Unknown Regions in search of truth. Without spoiling the plot, Meetra Surik is sent after him when he does not send reports to his wife, Bastilla. Meanwhile, a new Sith Lord, Scourge is assigned to serve Darth Nyriss of the Emperor's Dark Council and is wrapped up in back-stabbing treachery and intrigue, which question his beliefs. The threat of the Sith Emperor and his designs on the Republic hangs like a shadow over everything.
Writer Drew Karpyshyn has an extensive knowledge of Star Wars and of Revan in particular, having been the lead writer for BioWare on the original Knights of the Old Republic game and working on the new MMO, The Old Republic. I feel, however, that this familiarity with the characters and the worlds they inhabit serve as a detriment, rather than a boon. Some characters, particularly Revan himself, do not feel fully fleshed out. New character, Lord Scourge and Meetra Surik (player-character from KotORII) receive the best treatment. Scourge because he receives the lion's share of the book to set up his character and Surik because she was essentially a blank slate. Strangely, the character with perhaps the best characterisation is Darth Nyriss' advisor Sechel; from the first meeting we understand him and he grows or is expanded upon with each encounter. These characters needed to be fleshed out, whereas the seasoned gamer already knows who Revan, Basitilla and Canderous are, this over-familiarity is definitely a failing of the book.
The characterisation is not the only unbalance within the book. Whilst there is some interest in the activities of Scourge and in Revan's search for clues to his past, the pace doesn't really get going until Surik finally meets Revan. Unfortunately, despite the exciting denouement, the final confrontation is pretty much the only part of the book that will stay with you. It wasn't until my second read through that I fully recalled the references to other characters from the KotOR games, interactions between characters and reasons for set pieces. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the book follows the activities and thoughts of Lord Scourge and the chapters that do follow the title character, Revan, feel far too short. We're left wanting more from him than we're allowed.
My main criticism of the book is that it feels that there are parts of the story that are being held back; like the book purely serves as promotional material for The Old Republic. The book creates a bridge between the original games and the new one, setting up the changes is Revan's status quo and explaining his disappearance, as mentioned in KotORII. As someone who simply doesn't have time to play an MMO (certainly not one that charges monthly), I feel a little cheated. It's evident from the book that there is more to come and the journey of Revan within the story simply doesn't feel complete. I doubt that this was completely intentional, but likely a side-effect of the writer's intimate familiarity with the source material and an attempt to balance the jigsaw-like pieces of the whole story.
That being said, the book is enjoyable. There's sufficient explanation given to the characters' motivations and the climax is big enough to fit with what we expect of Star Wars fiction. The inevitably downbeat moments work well and should not be used by fans to denounce the book's good points. If we were to sum the book up in one word it would be 'disappointing', not because it is bad, but because it has taken over half a decade for the conclusion of Revan's story to be told, but we are given an uneven continuation of the story rather than a wholly satisfying conclusion.