I know you’ve probably had this conversation before. You’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking “Who cares?” or shouting “Read the book!” or something along those lines. Or maybe you’re like me, and a little miffed. Personally, if Revan’s not a chick, I’m not interested.
But don’t run away just yet! I understand that Revan is canonically, male. The novel, which takes place between the first and second Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games depicts the character as male, and describes Revan’s life after having come back to the light side, effectively ending all debate on the gender question. Regardless of which gender you chose for your character (or which moral path you chose to follow) in the games, the expanded universe sets Revan as a light-side male into stone.
So, why is it still so difficult for me to read male Revan as the “real” Revan? As a kid, I always gravitated towards the character that looked the most like me – the vaguely Southeast Asian woman – and then preoccupied my time with acquiring an orange lightsaber, wearing the coolest jedi robes, and dutifully following the light side. She was dear to my little 9-year-old heart. Even when I played the game again as an adult, using a character with a different face and sending her down the dark side, I still associated the “real” Revan with the childhood version. When introduced to the canon Revan, I felt a small affront on the part of my Revan. Suddenly, she was something of an illegitimate version of the character.
Of course, you were going to have to ruin someone’s Revan to write any canon story about the character. Bioware’s RPGs make it easy to become incredibly attached to your specific version of a game’s protagonist. (Anyone who’s played Dragon Age has probably compared notes with their friends about their different Wardens or Inquisitors.) But this begs the question of the necessity for a canon gender.
What does the change in gender do to the narrative? Playing as a male instead of a female only changes romance options and makes no difference to the main plot of the first game at all. The mask which keeps the character’s identity a secret for most of the game provides the perfect gender-neutral image. None of the character’s back story is motivated by gender. Even the second game, which takes place after the events of the novel, keeps Revan’s fate vague enough that the gender is unimportant. (The game gives you dialogue options near the beginning that allow you to indicate the gender and moral alignment of your Revan from the previous game, but the character’s alignment doesn’t come into play very much, and oftentimes, mistakes in the game’s dialogue later on mix up the pronouns when talking about Revan anyway.) Presumably, we could have gotten a very similar – if not the same – story without having to explicitly indicate Revan’s gender in anyway.
Additionally, we might look toward the aspects of the character which are still left up for debate. The character’s particular face, as there are multiple male faces to chose from in the game, doesn’t have as clear of an answer. Thereby, the character’s race is still up for debate. But race plays even less of a role in the character’s storyline. In place of race issues, the Star Wars universe, and in particular, the world of the Old Republic, is filled with inter-species issues. Cultural differences, issues of immigration, histories of slavery, language barriers, and the like, are focused on alien species. (See: the alien ghettos of Taris, or Juhani’s enslavement.) While we might speculate about Revan’s race, the character’s position as a human is never in question. In this post-race world, your species is the important identifier.
So why couldn’t we do the same thing with gender as an identifier? My initial statement of disinterest in a male Revan stems partly from that childhood fondness for a character I helped develop with moral decision-making, and partly from a desire to see more female-focused leads in science fiction, but I think making Revan canonically female might have been just as uninteresting. Writing a new story in the world of the Old Republic focusing on Revan, but finding ways to keep the character’s gender ambiguous would’ve provided an interesting read, that would pull us closer to a post-gender world. Whereas the games specifically pivoted the use of pronouns and the romance options based on your choice of gender, the novel would have had to work within a more neutral framework, dismantling ideas of what is feminine and masculine to write about a character that could be either, or, more interestingly, neither.