A clumsy, disappointing followup to a seminal game
*Very minor spoilers follow*
While the exploration of the Old Republic era started in the comics, Bioware’s original Star Wars game, Knights of the Old Republic, created a massive interest in the events that occurred thousands of years before the appearance of Luke Skywalker. At the center of this story was Revan, the eponymous hero of Drew Karpyshyn’s new novel. Ever since the end of the original KOTOR, Star Wars fans have wondered what happened to the mysterious Jedi-turned-Sith-turned-Jedi. And, if they’re like me, they couldn’t be more disappointed.
The basic plot is simple: Revan, now married to Bastila, remembers there’s some great threat in the Unknown Regions and goes to seek it out. The secret, as we learn in the first chapter and as anyone familiar with The Old Republic can guess, is that the Sith are out there, waiting, plotting their invasion, so a significant portion of the novel is seeing the view of the Sith Empire culture from the eyes of one of it’s citizens. It plays out pretty much how you’d expect. There are very few twists and turns, and even the ending, while slightly unexpected, isn’t terribly surprising.
The most glaring problem with Revan is the characterization. Now, I fully admit that Karypyshyn had a rough job here. One of the main conceits of the KOTOR games is the ability for the player to create their own sense of who Revan (and the Jedi Exile, in the second entry) is. So there’s necessarily going to be some disparities between Karpyshyn’s Revan and mine. That’s not my problem. My problem is that the other characters act nothing like themselves, if they have any characterization at all. Gone is the strong, capable Bastila Shan. She’s been replaced by a Stepford Wife that seems to exist solely to say “I love Revan SO MUCH!” Canderous has been castrated, and he acts toward Revan like a rescued puppy toward its master. The rest of the characters are waved away with the flimsiest of excuses: “Oh, we can’t possibly ask Mission to help save the galaxy with us. She owns a shop now! A SHOP!” This run down of all the companions from KOTOR (except Carth, who, for some reason, is not mentioned once) and the reasons why Revan doesn’t want to talk to them gets pretty absurd.
The weird characterization doesn’t stop there. It’s not just consistency with previous material — the novel has a plethora of internal consistency problems. Revan oscillates from a paragon of justice, completely unwilling to do anything anyone would frown on, to a witty rogue, charming the pants off of everyone he meets, to a heretic, bravely straddling the line between Light Side and Dark Side. If you asked me for a single trait that defined Revan, I couldn’t give you one. And that’s just lazy writing, in my opinion. The new Sith character, Lord Scourge (who, it must be said, is really the main character of the novel) undergoes similar contortions. He starts out as a typical Sith — not so much evil, as just kind of a dick. About halfway through the novel, he has an about face and starts to think of a couple of people as his friends, suddenly grows a heart, etc. There’s almost no incentive for this — any motivation that’s present is given to him offscreen.
And thus, we come to the second glaring problem of the book. A good 75% of the plot — everything that’s not Scourge’s story — happens offscreen. Revan’s entire plot arc is just him remembering things, or having visions about things. Nearly every chapter in the first half of the book begins with Karpyshyn giving us a narrative infodump about something that happened in KOTOR, or something that happened between KOTOR and Revan, or something that’s going to happen in The Old Republic. I understand this is a setup for Bioware’s next game, and that you need to refresh people who haven’t played the older titles in years, but the author chooses the clumsiest way to do it. Instead of cleverly dropping a few reminders here and there, he just decides to organize the majority of the novel as if it’s the introduction in a video game manual. I can count two significant actions Revan takes in this novel. The rest of it is just backstory.
Finally, I was very much surprised with how weak the novel is on the technical side of things. Strange and lazy choices, such as the aforementioned infodumps, are accompanied by wooden dialogue, horrible pacing (action scenes that go on for pages and pages, followed by major decisions and time shifts that are barely mentioned in passing) and weak descriptions. I say I’m surprised because Karpyshyn’s other Star Wars novels have actually garnered a fair amount of praise. But after reading Revan, I’m not in much of a hurry to track them down. I believe Karpyshyn knows how to tell a decent story, as evidenced by his role in Bioware games such as Mass Effect, as well as what I’ve played so far of The Old Republic. And normally I can forgive mechanics if the story is intriguing enough. But the problems here are so glaring, and the story so lackluster, that I can’t help but notice every little detail. I don’t normally expect great literature from Star Wars books, but I do expect some authorial effort and external editing, something Revan is in dire need of.
In the end, I can’t even really recommend this book to die hard Star Wars fans. The plot informs The Old Republic, and I’m sure some of the characters in Revan are the same we’ll be fighting in endgame raids in a few months. But all the relevant information can be found in a few minutes on Wookieepedia, and the read would probably be just as enjoyable. At the very least, I was at least able to plow my way through to the end — it was never so painful that I couldn’t continue. But I can’t say I had a good time of it.