Occurring after the Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi comic series but serving as a prequel to the 2003 RPG on which it is based, the Knights of the Old Republic (aka KotOR) comic series ran for five years and fifty issues, warranting a brief return with the War mini-series. Main characters from the game would make appearances in KotOR, but it was given a surprising level of wiggle room when it comes to new characters and scenarios. Much of the cast of the book is unique to the series, and few have been seen since it drew to a close. This was the flagship title of the 2005 line relaunch from Dark Horse Comics, and one of the company’s top-selling titles.
KotOR has the distinction of having a single writer throughout its lengthy run, and of more or less existing outside of the greater story of Star Wars due to it taking place some four thousand years before Luke Skywalker was born. The Jedi we meet here are complicated and even villainous, and many politicians and government officials belong to larger networks of intergalactic criminals. As such, much of this tale is about doing the right thing despite incredible pressure to conform to the party line, making it somewhat unique in the Star Wars mythos. Despite that, the well-meaning kid with his ragtag group of friends at the story’s center will be familiar to even the most casual fan.
Comics reviewed include: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2006) #1-50, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – War (2012) #1-5, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Handbook (2007) #1, material from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic/Rebellion (2006) #0
Worst Jedi Ever
The majority of this series is based around a crime that occurs in the very first issue. Zayne Carrick is a hapless young Padawan to Jedi Lucien Draay. Carrick continuously attempts to capture the con man Gryph, only to have the chance to catch him at last, which means showing up late to his induction ceremony. Once he arrives, he sees his friends all slain by their masters, and immediately goes on the run with Gryph as they are blamed for the murders and become two of the most wanted criminals in the galaxy. Along the way, they discover many other friends who just so happen to be outsiders themselves for whatever reason, including Jarael and Camper, two rowdy Arkanian Offshoots who immediately become regular cast members.
The subplot with Draay and the other Jedi Masters walks us through a winding tale of corruption, manipulation, and betrayal. It includes a fair amount of class commentary, as Lucien’s privilege gives him a constant edge but never quite wins him the love of his family. Draay is born into being a Jedi, with both parents serving before him—his father as a warrior who died young and his mother a foreseer who ignores Lucien in favor of the Covenant, a gathering of psychic-leaning children who she trains. This story unfolds over the first thirty-five issues of the series and there are a lot of twists and turns, but Draay’s cynicism and lack of faith in others leads him down a twisted path, making him the perfect nemesis for the hopeful, occasionally naïve Carrick.
The Jedi Are Terrifying
The Jedi Covenant is one of the great highlights of the series, as their attempts to prevent their prophesied deaths leads each of them to their respective dooms, falling one after the other. Each of the Covenant is powerful and dangerous, and they each respond to the tightening of the metaphorical noose in different ways. The Khil Xamar attempts to switch sides due to his increasingly nagging conscience and suspicion that Draay has been lying to the group, while the Miraluka Q’Anilia greets her own end with a glass of wine. They all cut intimidating figures on their own, let alone as a group. Carrick manages to survive their wrath simply by allowing them to cause their own demise, but there is no doubt how serious a threat they pose to him and all of his friends. Again and again, Carrick’s ability to follow his moral compass even in the most terrifying situations is all that saves him.
Carrick has little overall relation to the greater Star Wars universe, and mostly appears here as a sort of everyman, albeit one with an aspirational edge to him. While most Jedi are considered to be absolute masters of their craft, Zayne was brought into the ranks as a Padawan due to comparatively limited connection with the Force, and his tendency to find himself in overly chaotic situations recurs throughout his story. The intention with his character was to embody someone just starting out at a game who doesn’t have the controls down yet. Many times, he nearly dies simply for not looking ahead or sufficiently preparing for the disasters that await him. Still, Carrick is good-natured and pure of heart in a way that often puts him at odds with the Jedi. Indeed, even as his power grows, he remains somewhat on the outskirts, focusing on surviving the chaos caused in part by the ongoing Mandalorian Wars with his friends more than he ever centers the goals of the Jedi.
Later, when Carrick has significantly matured and occasionally sports the black Jedi attire, having defeated his many enemies while increasing his skills and his control over the Force, it feels like watching him step into his own power. Though Carrick has become what he feared he never could be, he has kept his morals intact along the way and as such surpassed his master, as well as many of his elders on the Jedi Council. The comic itself calls him out for being a bit too moralistic when he nearly condemns Jarael for her criminal past as a slave trader despite her having proven herself to be a true friend working towards redemption many times throughout the series. In the end, Carrick is a good kid, and he grows into a surprisingly focused adult, but it doesn’t prevent him from making a few mistakes. Ultimately, he not only forgives Jarael and Gryph for their checkered pasts, but extends that sense of sympathy to his worst enemies, including Draay and the Covenant, despite them having killed his friends.
Perhaps one of the most important relationships of the series, however, is Carrick’s friendship with the con man Gryph. Despite being perpetually involved in a great, intricate web of criminal activity, Gryph proves himself to be deep down a good person who is inspired by Carrick’s selflessness. Seeing that someone believes in him is a major turning point for Gryph, while Carrick growing to understand and trust a notorious criminal gives him a greater sense of empathy, which feeds into his mastery over the Force. These two mean a lot to each other, and their constant mutual disaster energy is one of the great highlights of the series.
The Last Resort
In many ways, this series is Carrick’s story, and he is the focal point from beginning to end, but the supporting cast is what keeps things interesting. The core cast is Jarael, Gryph, and Camper, but the comic features many other recurring characters. The Mandalorian Rohlan Dyre is a true delight in the way that only an anti-war dissident who refused to fight for his people could be. Questioning the motives of the Mandalorians and marking himself as an outcast and a coward, Dyre is just as much a criminal fleeing the law as anyone else on the ship. While he vows to defend Jarael to the death, he is replaced for a time before more or less vanishing from the series.
The central antagonist of the video game, Jedi Alek (who would soon become Malak), appears first as a headstrong and idealistic young soldier who becomes somewhat fixated on Jarael. Though he helps to rescue her when she is kidnapped, she never seems particularly interested in pursuing a relationship with him, while he plans a whole future with her and attempts to pull her along on his adventures multiple times. All along, he grows more and more disillusioned with the Jedi.
In the end, Carrick claims that he and Jarael are in a relationship to get Alek to back off. It turns out to be foreshadowing, however, as Jarael and Carrick ultimately end up together. Their chemistry is a little off and they made more sense as friends, but the transition isn’t so jarring that it doesn’t work. Jarael would be a better character if there had been more development of her fighting skills and her history, but she is given plenty to do throughout the run and is one of Carrick’s most trusted allies. Despite regularly getting kidnapped, she never goes without a fight and she never gives up on her friends, which makes her a fun character to have around. The series would definitely suffer without her, and she and Carrick have good chemistry as partners well before they become romantically intertwined.
Ultimately, Jarael gets her own nemesis in Chantique, the former Zeltron slave who ultimately became a slaver herself, which shines a light on a past that Jarael would prefer left in the shadows. The two nearly kill each other before being interrupted by Carrick. Chantique is intent on taking revenge for the horrors that she survived, making her a sort of Callisto to Jarael’s Xena. Her complete lack of relatability is perplexing, but she makes for a scary villain with a very real ax to grind. Likewise, the villain Arkoh Adasca utilizes uncomfortable themes by embracing outright fascism and slavery, manipulating Jarael romantically and then attacking her, and making constant references to the race of other characters. Ultimately defeated by his own giant space worms (it’s neat), Adasca only sticks around for a single arc, but his sense of entitlement remains unsettling. The prominence of slavery in Star Wars stories is a very deep well that doesn’t lead to any especially good places, and it’s certainly worth questioning its inclusion here. Regardless, KotOR continuously thrives when delivering bitterly ironic endings for its villains.
This series pulled off an impressive feat in creating a new cast of characters within the Star Wars mythos and making readers care about their exploits. Though the Legends line (aka anything pre-2014, at which time Disney gained control over the comics and established a new canon) is defunct and these comics may or may not be part of continuity (hard to say), the stories the Dark Horse era provided are truly the gift that keeps on giving. KotOR somewhat loses direction after its central mystery is solved, but there is still a lot of interesting stuff happening over the last issues as it begins to wind down. By the end, there is a sense of closure rarely seen in comics. There is always a chance that we may someday see these characters again, but if not, their story had a satisfying end. Incredible action sequences, comical mishaps, a love for the outsider, and endearing character beats make KotOR a top-notch Star Wars story that’s well worth the read.