Star Wars, Salvatore, Vector Prime, and Knights of the Old Republic

I played the computer role-playing games Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I and II a while ago, and KoTOR II was up there with the immortal Planescape: Torment and Fallout 2 as the best RPG I’ve ever played. They presented the Star Wars universe in a whole new light that the movies don’t even hint at; I was actually annoyed that Star Wars III was such a Steaming Pile of Sith because KoTOR I and II’s production values were just orders of magnitudes better — to the point where I felt the movies actually did some severe injustice to the Star Wars universe that it founded. If you don’t know me that well, you’ll have to take it as a given that I really don’t get annoyed with movies very often; it’s just sad to see that such a rich world full of rich characters has such a bad reputation because the movies don’t give it any depth.

(I am completely aware that this all makes me sound like a raving militant geek, by the way.)

So, as an attempt to explore more Star Wars stuff, I picked up Vector Prime, the first of the books in the series about the New Jedi Order, written by R. A. Salvatore. I really wanted to like this book, especially considering Salvatore wrote it and I respect him greatly as a fantasy author. (I’d like to remind people who think Drizzt and the Forgotten Realms are totally clichÈ, that the whole dark elf genre didn’t exist until Salvatore brought it to the greater public and RPG awareness. Even if you don’t like his characters or the setting he writes in, he still writes the most vivid combat scenes out of any author I’ve ever read.) To my minor disappointment, I thought Vector Prime was pretty average. Maybe it’s because I was unjustifiably comparing its storyline to the one I experienced when I played KoTOR II, or maybe it’s because I’ve been reading “higher” literature lately such as the Unbearable Lightness of Being, but Vector Prime just seemed to be a bit… rushed, I think. Too much happening, with not enough substance on the new characters you meet (as opposed to the portrayal of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca, which were done perfectly).

You know that when you read a really good book, or (much more rarely) played an incredible computer game, you were glad you did because it added something to your life, and that you learnt something from it? Vector Prime’s plot didn’t evoke those kind of feelings. I put it in the category of good, enjoyable sci-fi, but you’re not missing out on much if you don’t read it.

So, Vector Prime’s an adequate introduction to the Star Wars universe, but for now, the Knights of the Old Republic games represent everything that’s awesome about Star Wars. KoTOR II, in particular, is to be highly commended for exploring some pretty interesting philosophical issues while working within the confines of a licensed world where the artists and storytellers were restricted in what they were allowed to do. I find it a bit of a shame that the computer games bring out the best in the genre, because books are just so much more accessible to the general public than computer games, so a lot of people just won’t experience what an excellent plot setting the Star Wars universe can be. I’d love to see a good novel adaptation of the KoTOR plot lines, but somehow I don’t think that’ll ever happen.

Long story short: Vector Prime was pretty average, while KoTOR I and II rocked. KoTOR I is much more accessible than II since BioWare are incredibly talented at writing mainstream CRPGs, whereas KoTOR II throws you in the deep end: it’s much darker and gritty, but ultimately more rewarding thanks to ex-Black Isle folks being responsible for its development. If you’re into RPGs at all, do yourself a favour and play them.

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