Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a classic role-playing video game, published by Bioware in 2003. The game is set some 4,000 years prior to the Clone Wars. Even though the game is set so far in the past, there are many similarities between the two time periods: the Republic and the Jedi Order are mired in war, the Dark Side and the Sith are a potent threat, and the Jedi Order is absolutely awful at basic emotional intelligence. By demanding that all members of the Order reject their own emotions as a matter of course, the Old Republic Jedi Council sends many of its padawans down the same road that Anakin Skywalker would one day walk: Struggling to follow the restrictive rules of the Order, chafing under the chains, and eventually giving into decades of unaddressed emotional turmoil in a rapid fall to the Dark Side.There are three characters in particular who follow this path. Bastila Shan, Juhani, and Yuthara Ban each have stories that demonstrate a way that the Jedi Order has failed them–and failed all Jedi. While we only see the fall of these three characters, many more padawans and knights face the same emotional struggles.
Bastila Shan is a young human padawan, and prodigious in the Force ability known as Battle Meditation. This power allows her to turn the tide of entire battles, tipping morale and skill in favor of one side over the other. It’s a valuable power during a war, and the Jedi Council made it clear to Bastila just how important her powers were. As a result, when the main character first meets Bastila, she’s a frosty, arrogant, and rule-abiding Jedi, deeply convinced of both her own importance to the war and of the ever-looming threat of the Dark Side. Underneath her surly exterior, however, is a frustrated young woman whose authority doesn’t seem to match her apparent value, one struggling to master her completely natural emotions of fear, frustration, and love.
Bastila’s quest arc centers around her family. She was taken from them as a young girl, but she was still old enough to have thoughts and memories of her parents. She idolized her father, but despised her mother — viewpoints that remained stagnant as she grew up, because she never had a chance to know her parents as an adult. She explains that she’s had little contact with them, because “relationships with family members are fraught with powerful emotions. Such extremes are to be avoided. Anger and hate are the worst, but even love can lead to folly.” Jedi must be rational and controlled–above such trivial things as feelings. As she talks about the love she feels for her father, and the resentment she holds for her mother, Bastila seems to berate herself for still feeling anything for her parents, for not being a better Jedi. For the failure of having emotions.
Near the end of the story, Bastila is captured by Darth Malak, the Sith Lord leading the war on the Republic. While she resists the lure of the Dark Side at first, she eventually turns and embraces all that it offers. She rages at the Council for using her and her abilities without respecting her as a person. For the first time in her life, Bastila is letting her long-contained anger and frustration run wild… but after years without allowing herself to experience these emotions, and without any guidance on how to deal with anger in a healthy way, she becomes incredibly destructive to everyone around her.
Anger and destructive actions also prove to be challenges to Juhani, another young padawan struggling to follow the Jedi’s strictures. Juhani is a Cathar, a humanoid species that (unsurprisingly) resembles felines. She grew up in extreme poverty in the slums of Taris. Much of her poverty stemmed from her race: Taris was a profoundly human-supremacist society, and as Cathar, she and her family were treated like beasts. She was enslaved to pay her late parents’ debts and only freed when a group of Jedi noticed her Force sensitivity. She trained as a Jedi under Master Quatra, but continued to struggle with her anger.
When the time came for Juhani to face her Trials, Quatra decided on an unusual test, to describe it charitably. An accurate description would be dangerous and cruel. Quatra deliberately provoked Juhani’s rage and goaded her padawan into attacking her. The plan worked, and after apparently killing her master, Juhani fled into the wilderness around the Jedi temple on Dantooine, fully embracing what she believed to be her fall to the Dark Side. After being defeated in combat by the main character and convinced that the Council would forgive her, Juhani learned the truth of her test: Quatra had faked her death to show Juhani the danger of the Dark Side… and the dangers of her own emotions.
As a result, Juhani spends the rest of the narrative fighting against not merely expressing her anger, but against feeling anger at all. Talking about her history angers her, and when she begins to lash out, she almost immediately chokes everything back down and tells herself not to think about it. The trauma inflicted upon her by her master forces her to repress all negative emotion, lest she lose control and hurt someone she cared about again.
Of the three Jedi failed by the Order, Yuthara Ban is perhaps the most heartbreaking, because she fell to the Dark Side over her desire to help others. Yuthara is a twi’lek who, like so many twi’leks in the galaxy, was enslaved to a Hutt. She was able to escape, after stabbing the intoxicated Hutt while alone in his chambers with him, and was eventually discovered by the Jedi. They began to train her, but like Juhani, she was filled with anger over the circumstances she had come from–and the circumstances that so many slaves continued to live under. Yuthara wanted to use her powers to free slaves and destroy slavers, but the Jedi wouldn’t allow it. Furious with their lack of support, she left, and was eventually recruited into the Sith academy on Korriban, where she rose to the level of second in command.
Talking with Yuthara reveals not just her history, but also the fact that her ultimate goal of helping slaves remains. She claims that the Sith have given her the power and strength she needed, and they do not demand that she give up her anger: “Sometimes anger and hatred are deserved and right. Sometimes things change because of it.” Anyone who has fought against oppression knows the truth of her words. Yuthara still wants to help slaves across the galaxy, and she says that it is only her compassion that has kept her from simply killing every slaver she can find. If it is pointed out that without her compassion, she wouldn’t care about the slaves at all, she grows thoughtful, struggling to find a balance between the Sith’s demands for self-centered power and her own need for justice.
Because Knights of the Old Republic is an RPG, there are numerous paths and conclusions that each story can come to. Yet for all but Bastila, there are only two choices: a return to the Light Side and the teachings of the Jedi, or death. Juhani is either killed in combat, or must be persuaded to return to the Order, where she embraces their repressive teachings about emotion in the wake of her master’s faked death. If Yuthara is not killed during a lightsaber duel, she will realize that perhaps the Jedi were right and what she truly needs is peace. And Bastila’s choices are to join a Dark Side main character in their conquest of the Republic, to be killed for her fall, or… to realize that the Jedi were right and return to their ways.
To my mind, to see each of these women go back to the Jedi and their teachings is a tragedy. The choice presented to them is a false dichotomy: allow your emotions to burn out of control and destroy you and those around you, or feel nothing at all. Neither Jedi nor Sith offer a viable middle path, which is to find ways to experience emotions in a healthy way, and perhaps even channel them into something productive. Bastila could have had a mature relationship with her family. Juhani and Yuthara could have channeled their well-justified anger into fighting for the rights and freedom of slaves. Instead, they each go back to the repressive beliefs that led to their destructive falls in the first place.
When Rhi isn’t playing Star Wars make-believe with her friends, she writes fanfic, plays a lot of games, and hoards polyhedral dice. For out of context quotes from her tabletop RPGs, follow her twitter @rhiannon42.