Alex Kane: Five Things I Learned Writing A Book About Knights Of The Old Republic

Set an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away, BioWare’s 2003 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic wowed players with its compelling characters, lightsaber customization, complex morality choices, and one of the greatest plot twists in both video game and Star Wars history. But even for veteran studios like LucasArts and BioWare, the responsibility of making both a great game and a lasting contribution to the Star Wars canon was no easy task.

Featuring extensive new interviews with a host of KotOR’s producers, writers, designers, and actors, journalist Alex Kane weaves together an epic oral history of this classic game, from its roots in tabletop role-playing and comic books, to its continued influence on big-screen Star Wars films. Whether you align with the light or the dark side, you’re invited to dive into this in-depth journey through one of the most beloved Star Wars titles of all time.

“Alex Kane has written a fine book about how one the best video games ever made was created. Darth Revan, HK-47, the lost planet of Sleheyron, a charming story about Ed Asner—it’s everything you’ve always wanted to know about a truly fascinating game.” —Tom Bissell, author of The Disaster Artist

“Vigorously researched, accessibly written, and—most importantly—total fun from start to finish.” —Blake J. Harris, author of Console Wars

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Take a leap of faith

When BioWare inked a deal with LucasArts to make Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the two companies had never collaborated before. But the folks working at Lucas were big Baldur’s Gate fans, they wanted to make the Star Wars RPG of their dreams, and they took a massive risk to make it happen. The ancient setting was weird, the art felt a tad unfamiliar, and all of the game’s characters were new, original creations. Had fans not embraced the game the way they did, it might have been a creative and financial disaster. Instead, it became one of the most beloved and influential stories in the history of the Star Wars license.

Writing a book, it turns out, requires a similar leap; nobody’s going to write the precise thing you want to read, so you might as well be the one to do it. Don’t let your fears get in the way of that.

Seize inspiration

KotOR’s artists, design leads, and writers didn’t just look to the Star Wars films and the paintings of Ralph McQuarrie when it came time to carve out their own little place within that universe. They also looked at Y2K-era cinema, Dungeons & Dragons, and other rich sources of inspiration. Get messy. Read books you didn’t plan on reading; learn about stuff unrelated to your subject matter; see how writers you admire craft their most effective scenes and sentences. Your favorite Star Wars game owes a huge debt to M. Night Shyamalan: Who knows what might spark your next great idea?

Set a new course

Maybe you’re neck-deep in a second draft, things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped at the outset, and you just read a book you can’t get out of your head. Maybe now you feel completely stuck. Don’t be afraid to toss everything out and start fresh—just this once. All that work you did to get to this point still matters; it’s what got you here. But that thing I said about inspiration? It can strike at any time.

Long after I signed the contract to write a KotOR book for Boss Fight, I read The Art of The Last Jedi, The Disaster Artist, and some other great behind-the-scenes books, and suddenly I was in crisis mode: I didn’t just want to write a book about the game itself—I wanted to write the untold, human story behind it. A journalistic account drawn from fresh, oral-history-style reporting. No one had ever written about the making of Knights of the Old Republic at length, and I needed to tell that story. My editors were extremely supportive; they were thrilled to hear I was finally writing the book I wanted to write, even if it meant throwing away 15,000 words.

Interview some folks

Not every writer is an outgoing reporter type who wants to put on pants and go be social somewhere that isn’t Twitter, or even pick up the phone. Still, talking to people can be an invaluable resource—for nonfiction, for novels; for fact-checking and research; for figuring out things like dialogue, rhythm, and voice.

In my case, I wanted to tell the true story behind my favorite video game, which also happens to be a great Star Wars tale, so my book was either going to live or die on the basis of how successful I was at getting the folks who made it to talk to me. When I wanted to hear about the thinking that went into the creation of fan-favorite characters like HK-47 and Darth Revan, I called up writer Drew Karpyshyn and concept artist John Gallagher and asked them about it. Do all the research you like, and make your own observations wherever possible, but don’t forget to reach out to those who know more than you.

Trust (and cherish) your editor

I come from the frantic, fast-paced world of online journalism. I write about games and Star Wars a lot, and in order to do so well and continue to be paid for it, I have to turn in clean, focused, informative copy as fast as humanly possible. Book publishing is different; it moves at a geologic pace. And, I tell you what, you’re probably not going to produce a perfect manuscript on the first try. I would’ve been utterly lost without the help of Gabe Durham and Mike Williams, my editing duo on the KotOR project.

Writing a first book—perhaps especially one you’ve already signed a contract for in advance—is hard work, and it’s a learning experience from start to finish. You’re not Atlas shouldering the weight of the world. Give your editor a call, and trust that they know what they’re doing. I won’t pretend that writing is anywhere near as challenging as, say, shipping a role-playing game set in the world of George Lucas’s grand space opera. But you don’t have to go it alone.

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Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, StarWars.com, Variety, and other publications. This is his first book.

Alex Kane: Twitter

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Amazon | Boss Fight Books