For a while, I was confused about the way the Dantooinian Jedi council discussed Revan in private. Why do they keep up the front that Revan is dead when they converse in private and no one is around to hear them? Today, in this post, we’ll try to discover if a true self even exists.
Put away, your philosophy books. That’s not actually what’s happening. But we are going to talk about brainwashing in KOTOR and its implications on truth of self. This is a game about changing identities, so obviously we have to talk about this.
First, I want to investigate the Jedi council and their private discussions. The strangest thing, to me, was Master Vandar and Master Vrook’s conversation as they decide whether or not to train Revan:
Master Vandar: With Revan dead…
Master Vrook: Are you sure that Revan is truly dead? What if we were to undertake this one and the dark lord should return?
This is the kind of wording you would expect the characters to use when others were present, to keep up the rouse that Revan was killed, or presumed killed, but they use it in private when speaking to each other. Everyone involved in this conversation knows the truth about Revan’s memory wipe and knows exactly who this new soldier from the Endar Spire is, so why bother talking about Revan in this way?
Thinking back to the movies gave me something of an answer. Ben tells Luke that Darth Vader killed his father, Anakin, which we might assume is initially just a lie to protect Luke from having to know the horrible truth. But later, even after Luke learns the truth about Anakin, he talks about his father as something of a separate entity from Darth Vader. He proclaims “I’ll never turn to the dark side. I am a Jedi, like my father before me!” while in the middle of fighting his fallen Jedi father. We get our bittersweet ending as his father removes his mask, which is something of the trademark of Darth Vader, and returns to the light side as Anakin. At his death, we get the sense that Darth Vader metaphorically killed Anakin Skywalker. (Although his son resurrected him in a twisted moment of simultaneous death and rebirth? That’s a whole different post for a completely different blog.)
The importance of names is also made clearer when we consider the films in comparison to the games. Anakin loses his birth name and trades it in for a title as a Dark Lord, as does Revan, which makes it kind of difficult to talk about Revan in this post, when the player gets to choose Revan’s other name. So perhaps the council talks about Revan in this way, even in the absence of others, because they, too, see this same sort of duality as two parts that can be separated, although Master Vrook expresses some doubt on the subject. Much like Ben might consider Anakin practically dead when he fell to the dark side, the council might consider Revan practically dead when their memory was wiped.
Dialogue options support this same duality of self. The protagonist can denounce their past and insist that Revan is no longer a part of who they are, if they’re following the light side track. The dark side option embraces that past, that name, and their old identity.
But this light side Revan, who actually refuses that name, is the result of a brainwashing. The Jedi council literally manipulated their mind to make them this new person and to get them to turn away from their dark past even when it’s presented plainly in front of them. Is this new Revan, who is the result of mental manipulation, not the true Revan?
That question is complicated further when we consider Bastila’s fall. Although she never
fully creates a new identity with a new name and a fancy mask, she is also mentally manipulated by use of the force, into her fall. Is this fallen Bastila her true self or is the old, light-side Bastila her true self?
The more I think about this idea of the true Anakin, Revan, and Bastila, the more I realize, these questions are somewhat reductive. This separation that Ben and Vandar seem to believe in, that postulates a duality of identity, with two separate selves warring for dominance, seems to point toward a “truth” of self more complicated than the one these questions are getting at. The truth of Anakin and Vader isn’t that Vader is Anakin’s corrupted and lesser version, and the truth of Revan isn’t that the soldier from the Endar Spire is a purer and better version. The singular characters, who we can’t always assign a single name, have the potential for both light and dark within them, at any given time.
(Did I accidentally just write another post for the gray morality series?)