A possible link between Kylo Ren's Lightsaber in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the decade-old Knights of the Old Republic video games, has been found. If the link holds true it would seem to cement those games in Star Wars film canon.
I'll get to the link after I explain why being canonical in film terms is a big deal. It's because the Star Wars films always stood aloofly apart from the myriad Expanded Universe stories. Decades of books and comics and games - including KOTOR - explored all corners of the Star Wars universe but were unified and ruled by the sacrosanct stories of the films - which paid little, if any, heed in return.
In the lead-up to the new film trilogy Lucasfilm made this stance explicitly clear.
"Star Wars Episodes 7-9 will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe," was the headline snub. J.J. Abrams and team would make their own story up.
But there's more appropriate information for me in the fuller explanation:
"For over 35 years, the Expanded Universe has enriched the Star Wars experience for fans seeking to continue the adventure beyond what is seen on the screen. When he created Star Wars, George Lucas built a universe that sparked the imagination and inspired others to create. He opened up that universe to be a creative space for other people to tell their own tales. This became the Expanded Universe, or EU, of comics, novels, video games, and more.
"While Lucasfilm always strived to keep the stories created for the EU consistent with our film and television content as well as internally consistent, Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU. He set the films he created as the canon. This includes the six Star Wars episodes, and the many hours of content he developed and produced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. These stories are the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align."
In the future (the post was written April 2014), "all aspects of Star Wars storytelling moving forward will be connected" and overseen by a brand new story group. Expect an "unprecedented slate" of films, games, books, comics "and new formats that are just emerging". The old Expanded Universe will move to the side and make way, labelled under a new Legends banner.
This all looked a lot like Disney and Lucasfilm wiping the slate clean for a new era of Star Wars; out with the old, in with the new. It did stipulate that "creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe", but that seemed a token gesture to appease any upset fans. Or was it?
There's a believable link between Kylo Ren's crossguard Lightsaber and, specifically, Knights of the Old Republic 2, although KOTOR1 and Star Wars: The Old Republic have to be included because of their shared timeline and, particularly, main character Revan.
The link regards the origins of Kylo Ren's Lightsaber, and a revelatory paragraph in a "Visual Dictionary" book accompanying the film. "Kylo Ren's Lightsaber is an unusual design, dating back thousands of years to the Great Scourge of Malachor," the book revealed, then said a bit more about the weapon's design - although it's really only the first sentence you need concern yourself with.
Nevertheless, here's the extra stuff: "The crossguard blades, or quillons, are tributaries of the primary central blade, all spawning from a cracked kyber crystal that is the cause of their ragged, unstable appearance. An array of focusing crystal activators split the plasma stream into perpendicular blade energy channels, creating the quillons. The emitter shrouds on the crossguard protect the bearer's hand from the smaller blades."
The Lightsaber's design dates back thousands of years to the Great Scourge of Malachor. What is the Great Scourge of Malachor? No one knows for sure because that's the first we've heard of it. But rifling through Star Wars history there's only one event I believe it can be: Revan using the Mass Shadow Generator above the planet Malachor 5. There is nothing else in Malachor's known history that comes close.
Revan using the Mass Shadow Generator was backstory created for specifically for Knights of the Old Republic 2, although as it happened before Knights of the Old Republic 1, and involved Revan, it has to include that game as well.
The Mass Shadow Generator was a superweapon Revan used to bring about an end to the Mandalorian Wars, creating an immense gravitational vortex that sucked the planet and armies above it into ruin, and ripping all asunder. What was left was a planet - Malachor 5 - in pieces, held together by gravitational anomalies. Consider the definition of Scourge - "to cause great suffering to" - and you've hit it, spot on.
The Mass Shadow Generator went off in 3960 BBY, which stands for "before the Battle of Yavin" - the battle leading to the Deathstar's destruction in the first Star Wars film, A New Hope. Knights of the Old Republic 1 took place four years after the Mass Shadow Generator went off (3956 BBY), and Knights of the Old Republic 2 unfolded five years after that (3951 BBY). The Great Scourge of Malachor dates back "thousands of years"; the timeline fits.
There was also a Sith Academy on Malachor 5 that survived the Mass Shadow Generator's vortex and Revan investigated it after the battle. He found evidence of more Sith threats and his pursuit of these led him to the Dark Side. That Sith Academy sounds like a great place for an ancient Lightsaber design to be found.
Almost nothing else has happened in Malachor's history - a system that probably wouldn't exist were it not for the backstory of Knights of the Old Republic 2. I can find reference to only two other named planets in the system: Malachor 2 and Malachor 3. Malachor 2 was the site of an excavation that's nothing more than a footnote, but something vaguely interesting did happen on Malachor 3, although in a storyline belonging to SWTOR, a game (and setting) that owes its existence to KOTOR.
Malachor 3 was the burial site for a mad scientist Sith Lord called Terrak Morrhage, and his spirit was awoken when a party of Jedi rummaged through his tomb. He attacked their minds and possessed a body for his own, resurrecting himself as Lord Vivicar. He declared war on the Jedi by spreading a kind of psychosis among them but he was eventually stopped and his spirit exorcised. Hardly the kind of events that could be labelled a Scourge, let alone a Great one.
No, if we're talking about Malachor, we're talking about Malachor 5, and therefore Knights of the Old Republic 2, and Revan and the Mass Shadow Generator.
But this conjecture, albeit convincing, depends on the veracity of information in The Star Wars Force Awakens Visual Dictionary book. What if the people at Dorling Kindersley took the information from Lucasfilm and misinterpreted it? What if DK made it up? There's a lot of padding and meaningless information in the book. A picture of Kylo Ren with his hand outstretched is dramatically labelled, "An accusing finger reinforces unquestioned authority," but it just looks to me like a generic baddie pose. And there's a picture of Finn, in about as neutral a pose as I can imagine, with his face labelled, "Fierce devotion to newfound friends," which made me laugh. This is hardly an examination of Da Vinci's Last Supper.
Yet I can't believe any details about the origins of Kylo Ren's Lightsaber would be overlooked. It is the iconic weapon of the new Star Wars film. I own a Revenge of the Sith 'Making Of' book, for some reason, and can see the work that goes into creating even the most incidental items. For a film of The Force Awakens' magnitude, and a weapon of Ren's Lightsaber's stature, there would be hours and hours of thought behind it. And J.J. Abrams' team isn't about to let slip any important information with so many teasing plot questions hanging.
Where does that leave us? I reached out to Lucasfilm nearly a week ago with an essay of a request for comment, which was acknowledged but remains unanswered. I also talked to Knights of the Old Republic 2 lead designer Chris Avellone, who didn't have anything to add. I'm still waiting to hear back from Obsidian, the game's developer.
I also reached out to Knights of the Old Republic 1 lead writer Drew Karpyshyn, who also had a key writing role on Star Wars: The Old Republic and wrote spin-off novels about Revan and about a Sith Lord he dreamt up called Darth Bane, but he didn't reply.
Should the Great Scourge of Malachor turn out to be Revan using the Mass Shadow Generator, and Ren's Lightsaber relate somehow to it, then in one very incidental nod in the corner of a book, a game and series I personally love will have been recognised by a Star Wars film and become part of sacrosanct canon. And that's cool, however uncool I have made myself by pointing all of this out.
How deliberate and considerable that link turns out to be remains to be seen, and it may never be explored any further. Or it could go into the story of immortal, thousand-year-old Sith Emperor Volkorion, who apparently orchestrated Revan's fall to the Dark Side. Volkarion stars in new Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, and his is a long, long story. What if he's connected to Lord Snoke somehow? Bear in mind that Knights of the Fallen Empire was made after Lucasfilm created the governing story group, so presumably it had to adhere to whatever standard the story group is enforcing. I wonder...