I’ve written extensively about Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic 2 in the past, and with good reason. She is not only one of the most interesting characters in all video gaming, and a perfect example of the kinds of women we need to see more of in gaming, but a character with a complexity worthy of even high literature. She interests me as much as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. But one of the things I’m yet to write about in any worthy detail was something from KotOR2 that echoed across time to me. It was what I consider one of the most (likely unintentionally) feminist moments in all of video gaming. (A brief note: there will be spoilers, doubtlessly, and some of the lines I quote and the video used are culled from parts of the game that were not added in time due to KotOR2 being rushed to market. They still speak to Kreia’s character, however.)
If you’ve pursued a light side path and kept the Jedi Masters alive throughout the game you will come across what is, perhaps, one of KotOR2’s most beautifully arresting moments. It occurs at the climax on Dantooine when you—the Exile—meet the Masters in the ruined Jedi Temple there, ostensibly to receive their wisdom and aid. Instead, the atmosphere quickly takes on the odours of an inquisition. The Exile once again finds herself on trial, this time for relearning how to use the Force after having been deafened to it, and learning how to ‘hear’ the Force in a strange, new way, outside the confines of the Jedi Code.
As the (all male) Masters lecture your character and interpret her singularly complex experience for her, Kreia’s voice suddenly echoes from afar to challenge, with profound perspicacity, their most damning assertions about you:
Vrook: You were deafened.
Kreia: At last you could hear.
Kavar: You were broken.
Kreia: You were whole.
Zez Kai-El: You were blinded.
Kreia: And, at last, you saw.
Like a radical feminist poem, with its gentle but stern oppositional metre, it strikes against the gaslighting that these powerful men are inflicting upon a disobedient woman (the Exile, recall, is a woman canonically). This moment always stood out to me as showing not only Kreia at her best—she does not abandon the Exile when three powerful men threaten to take away everything she is, and everything she has worked for—but also as conveying a potent feminist message: that when, indeed, your eyes are opened to a difficult truth as a woman, you will be gaslit.
Your enlightenment will be cast as darkness, your knowledge as ignorance; the lilting mockery of Virgina Woolf’s Dr. X can be heard in the stentorian condemnations of Master Vrook, the intellectual man with bottomless contempt for women who dare to know themselves. Kreia herself is the teacher—once considered prodigal in her own time—whose ideas challenged the dogma of a mostly male elite, leading to the indignities of her downfall. Her ideas were radical; they challenged everything the Jedi Order (and, ultimately, the Sith) believed in. She stood athwart every mainstream understanding of the Force and inculcated this in her students; the Exile was the greatest of these, and this meeting amid the ruins of Dantooine’s Temple was meant to be a meeting wherein the Exile brought the ultimate truth of her life ineluctably before the gaze of the surviving Jedi Council members. Kreia’s lifelong academic mission would reach a new crescendo—reconciliation, vindication, a new chapter in understanding the Force.
Instead, after their litany of condemnations, the Masters threaten to strip the Exile of her ability to feel the Force once again. The imagery of this—three powerful men binding a woman against her will to rob her of the hard earned gifts that challenge their orthodoxies—should not be lost on us. And it is here that Kreia emerges onto the scene, striding in from the gardens, raising her hand to Force push the Masters away from the Exile.
“Enough. Step away from her. …Step away! She has brought truth, and you condemn it? The arrogance. You will not harm her, you will not harm her ever again,” she says with elegant acid. For all her depredations and moral ambiguity, it is here her love—as a teacher, as a mentor—is revealed in full bloom. Here is where she, at last, revenges herself on those who’d wronged her, “I have endured your corruption of my other students, you shall not have this one,” she avers to Vrook as she intercedes to save the Exile.
There is something profoundly revelatory about how she deals with the Jedi Masters here. She forces a kind of empathy upon them, enjoining them to “see [the galaxy] through the eyes of the Exile.” This takes the form of robbing them of the Force themselves, to show them, however painfully, just where the Exile has walked, why they are so unfit to pass judgement upon her, and how little they actually understand of her situation. This searing blast of revelation, of a woman’s intimate knowledge, kills them.
Out of Eden
Kreia is a chiaroscuro tapestry woven of philosophy, pedagogy, and smouldering passion; each thread is illuminated powerfully by this scene. She had suffered the Cassandra-like fate of all women who promulgate painful truths, and she was through with the suffering silence, the exile; here was where she not only saved the Exile but once again became the master of events. In attacking the Exile the Masters had shown themselves to be obstacles in the needful crusade to counter the latest Sith threat. Instead of aiding their most promising ally, they were going to strip the Force from her in the name of ideological purity—that same purity that had destroyed Kreia’s career long ago.
Kreia reminds the Exile that she had, in fact, seen truth in her adventures, learnt something of herself and the Force, and that the Council was wrong to condemn her for these things, wrong to condemn her for knowing the purportedly unknowable.
In a word, the Exile had tasted the Forbidden Fruit.
This scene is very much Eve being punished for the sins of man, but with an altogether different outcome. Eve lives on, the fruits of Eden well in hand, while the voices of God lay stilled in an all too fitting mausoleum. Its threads, making for a Spartan scene that is considerably more than meets the eye, tell a story that is intimately reflective of many women’s lives, especially the lives of those who, in Woolf’s phrase, “learn the habit of freedom.” The scene is tragic—lives are lost, perhaps unnecessarily—and yet its tragedy is a culmination of patriarchal ignorance rather than Kreia’s own moral failings. She protected both her student and the only woman who could do what needed to be done to end this silently screaming Sith invasion.
Martha Nussbaum correctly observes that tragedy in drama often consists in impossible choices imposed by inalterable circumstances, and it is precisely that tuche that Kreia faced here. If she let the Masters live, they would have hounded the Exile’s steps, foolishly believing her to be the greater threat to the galaxy. Yet in ending their lives she adds yet another sin to a list that already weeps with innumerable crimes. But she bears it so that the Exile does not have to; for all her lecturing about the naiveté of Jedi thinking, she does not let the Exile get her hands dirty, does not allow her to walk in the shadows where Kreia found knowledge only in the most torturous ways possible—and there is a profound love in that.
Above all, the scene is evocative of the kind of love women must share in a deeply troubled, remorselessly benighted world. And in its darkness, there is a kind of beauty. Truth’s triumph, knowledge redeemed, virtue secured, an Exile set free.
For, at last, she saw.