"You know what I hate? Well, lots of things really but I'm old and easily annoyed but that's beside the point!"
Last year I started a blog meant to be the beginning of a feature series, something which I've yet to follow up on, so recently I've decided to remedy. The season finale of Rebels, and the upcoming 15th anniversary of BioWare's KOTOR game made me decide to make this entry focused on one particular character. A short while ago an article on the frontpage was posted to celebrate black ethnic characters in gaming whom we cherish. I naturally felt compelled to contribute with one particular character named Jolee Bindo, written by BioWare's most well known and accomplished writer David Gaider- While Gaider has long since left the company, to pursue other opportunities, his legacy still "echoes" today as Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic 2 would say. Yes, indeed, we are gonna talk about Star Wars and KOTOR specifically because it is the most well-regarded BioWare game looking beyond the Mass Effect series. But in retrospect, I never held any real fondness for the game's overall world and characters like I did its sequel developed by Obsidian Entertainment.
Having said that there is a lot to like about KOTOR 1 and one of those things are characters like Jolee Bindo. In honour of 2018 being the 15th anniversary of the beloved C-RPG's release I want to dedicate this entry to Jolee Bindo and David Gaider. And in some ways this is also an expansion on my prior blogs on Star Wars, and the many good aspects on its game universe. So let's get started on that.
What are the fundementals of anything that makes Star Wars what it is? Well, it is evidently the eternal struggle between good and evil, where the heroes are the underdog rogues who cherish freedom and justice, and the bad guys are the power hungry subjugators with British accents. This has been the basis for how we generally think of Star Wars whenever we talk about it, or go to the cinema and watch the next big entry in the main saga. It's how Lucas wanted it to be, while he crafted something truly unique with Empire Strikes Back thanks in no small to the likes of Lawrence Kasdan, Irvin Keshner, and others. It was a movie that wasn't afraid to go a little dark, sometimes the good guys will lose and we have to come to grips with that. The lead characters' status as the good guys are being tested as they come face to face with everything they fear to lose, and what they fear to become.
That's all well and good but Return of the Jedi famously undid a lot of that tense dark atmosphere with its cheery carebear ewoks and optimism. There was true conflict in Luke's meeting with the Emperor sure, but a lot of it was undermined by the otherwise upbeat adventure of an intergalactic Empire being toppled by a bunch of college kids and their pet gophers.
The tropes of a galaxy far, far away
This is where the expanded universe comes into question, because it arguably represents all the interesting and also least interesting things about Star Wars. The late retired expanded universe has had so much material written down that it began to resemble something like the DC Comic and Marvel Canon mixed into one big gelatenous mass. For all the good it had, and make no mistake it had a lot of good in it, it was a mess all the same. But within that mess there was still a lot of well written matierial, and no less due to the freedom that brought them to life.
The Old Republic era created that freedom, because at the time it was a relatively open space for creators indulge themselves with. Lightsabers would naturally still be around and starships would run on hyperdrives that could travel faster than the speed of light. From a in-universe-science standpoint not much is different between the millennia that seperates the two canons but that's okay as Star Wars' nature was never in its science but in its magic and mystery. It's a phenomenon buried deep in the American cultural heritage, for all of its allusions and parallels to works by Kurosawa and buddist philosophies implanted into its Jedi characters. The stories are ultimately very plain, heroic, adventure for all of the family. The Jedi for all of their flaws and misteps with regards to teaching their own apprentices how to be a good person, are ultimately still seen as the selfless heroes whom gives hope to the galaxy to conquer tyranny.
The reason I'm going on about all of this, like I've done before in my prior blogs about Star Wars, is because to understand a character like Jolee Bindo we have to understand the fabrics of Star Wars and the Jedi, so that we may see that for all of Bindo's similarities to Yoda. He couldn't be more different, for starters, he is no Jedi.
"People my age are entitled to ramble, damnit!"
Your first meeting with Jolee in the shadowy underbelly of Kashyyk's not so ominously named "Shadowlands" draws a clear comparison to that of the Planet Dagobar and Luke's encounter with Master Yoda in Empire. He even has the whole hermit get up going down, all the way down to his out-of-touch and eccentric disposition. But while Bindo is old and a charming reflection of the elderly folk we take for granted he has a lot of his own collective wisdom to share with the protagonist. Jolee's wisdom is not of any insights to that of the Jedi Code, or waxing human philosophy like Kreia does. No it's more the wisdom of an old man, who's seen both Jedi as well as the Sith, but has lived a full rich life without adhering to any code that would dictate on how he should live it.
"Yes and what are they without the Force? Strip away the Force and what remains" says Kreia to Atton Rand in Knights of the Old Republic 2. Jedi rely on the Force more than they know. It's motivator for their ethics, their social ties, their politics. The Force is the source of wisdom, direction, purpose. Because these teachings are encoded into their very way of life, it ultimately becomes the source of their fallibility. A strong reliance on the Force means that should it be stripped way, the way it was for the Jedi Masters by Kreia at the Jedi Enclave, it would kill them. The over-reliance and stubborn usage of the Force would blind the Jedi and make them repeat their mistakes in a never-ending cycle that ultimately is paid with countless lives and wars perpetuated by Sith--Force Wielders who also preaches about a code that sees the Force as the never-ending source for power.
Jolee's difference lies in how he never ascended above the rank of Padawan within the Jedi Order before he decided to leave it forever. The details on his departure is important because it determines the richest value of his character but I wanna leave that aside for now. Jolee imparts wisdom to Revan, the protagonist, in form of wild anecdotes, tall tales and, if you're really polite, a few tales of his own adventures and lessons he's learned. The wisdom he shares might seem like the deluded ramblings of an old man at first, they are actually profound lessons on how to be a good person without enslaving yourself to anything like codes or example.
The Tales of Bindo
The most repeated line in the Star Wars movies is that attachment are things of the Dark Side, because they ultimately lead to the fear of loss. In Revenge of the Sith, it's made pretty clear that the biggest benefactor into Anakin's fall to the Dark Side is his feelings for Padmé Amidala. Yoda advices that he should train himself to let go of anything he fears to lose. But does the folly lie in Anakin's refusal to adhere to this lesson, or is it the Jedi's refusal to see above their code. In Jolee's eyes it is the latter, while discussing his reasons for leaving his hermitage with Carth Onasi, he brings up a point regarding the perpetuating wars that repeat themselves throughout galactic history in the Star Wars universe.
While fighting to end tyranny is important, it's never defining because the history of Star Wars has a habit of repeating itself. When one Sith falls, another takes his place, as will the Jedi that exist to oppose them. Jolee might not realize it himself but his conversation with Carth hints at the bigger truth of Star Wars. That at its core are Jedi and Sith in a never ending struggle of beliefs and arrogance. The kind we can see reflected throughout our own history too. And in retrospect, a lot of it relates to what Kreia despises about the Force too, that it seems to have a destiny for everything in a thinly veiled attempt to create some form of balance at the expense of countless lives being lost in wars of ideaology.
Every age has its heroes and its tyrants
Through the eyes of Jolee Bindo, his words serve as a reminder that you don't need to be a Jedi to stand up to tyranny, and you don't need to submit yourself to a code to resist the Dark Side of the Force. It is the content of your character that determines the Dark Side's hold over you. The most pivotal moment in Jolee's history as a Jedi was when Exar Kun declared himself the Dark Lord of the Sith, and at that time Jolee's undisicplined wife, trained in the ways of the Force by himself, decided to follow the newly groomed Sith. Jolee fought and defeated his wife in single combat, but couldn't bring himself to kill her to which she'd then go on to kill many other Jedi before finally being struck down herself.
Jolee would naturally go on to blame himself and his own arrogance for her wife's fall, and the people she would go on to kill. When he returned to the Jedi to receive the punishment he rightfully had stirred upon himself. He found himself surprised to discover that said punishment never came, in the eyes of the Council Jolee had instead learned an important lesson on the dangers of attachment. The pride to which the Jedi rely on their code is what blinds them to see beyond it, and ultimately repeat their mistakes over and over again as it so did with Revan and Malak. While Jolee himself might not have succumbed to the Dark Side, he ultimately went against the Council's wishes that would lead to his wife downfall and thus many people would be killed because of it.
Refusing to acknowledge Jolee's failure is what made Jolee become dillusioned with the Jedi. The Jedi trains only younglings, so they can rid them of earthly attachments before they are old enough to make them and dedicate themselves fully to the teachings of their code. In the eyes of Jolee Bindo, that's not the way to live, and it is not the way to resist the temptations of the Dark Side. If anything, the arrogance of the Jedi Code is what perpetuates the never ending rise of the Sith. Kreia seeks to dismantle these believes through the Jedi Exile by showing that life exists without the Force, and strength comes from your character as an individual. Jolee, for all of his amusing ramblings, is not much different. While Kevin Michael Richardson's delightful smooth vocals might not have the enunciating presence of Shakespearan stage actress Sara Kestelman. It delivers a similar message of strength of character.
And what a character Jolee Bindo was in an otherwise pretty good RPG from BioWare's golden days.