A Light in a Sea of Greys: Analysing Atris and Knights of the Old Republic II (Pt 1: Basics)

Atris the Betrayer

Don’t judge a book by its colour.

The Sith Lords gets both a lot of praise and a lot of flak for its moral complexity, and its challenge to the stereotypical good/evil Star Wars conflict.1 One key part of this challenge, as well as its examining of the problems with the Jedi Order, was Atris, a relatively minor character in retrospect but nonetheless an important one. Initially trying to evoke an imagine of a pinnacle of goodness, of being true Jedi, it becomes clear almost immediately that she’s not really any of these things. At the end of the game, the idea’s practically kicked in the teeth. If she is true Jedi, she is every problem with the Order made manifest.

In a lot of ways, Atris is pretty similar to Trias the Betrayer from Planescape: Torment, a Deva (pretty much an angel) and theoretical being of Lawful Good — who ultimately proves himself a liar and, uh, a betrayer, “twisted by the Planes”. This is probably intentional: Kreia herself is a reinterpretation of sorts of Ravel Puzzlewell, if a noticeably different character.2 Also Atris is actually Trias with the letters rearranged and originally she could become Darth Traya. Darth Traya, lord of betrayal. Trias the Betrayer. Of course, I do love a good excuse to go on about Torment. If nothing else, it’s a exploration of a similar idea.

To start with, I’d like to look at how the promotion and her basic character design both re-enforce and in some cases subtly undermine this image, before getting into the events of the game proper (partly because getting all the screenshots and so on is going to take forever).

“Pre-game”
Despite only appearing briefly in the game proper, Atris is still an oddly big icon for it. She occupies a disproportionate amount of media considering, appearing as much as Bastila — who could be considered, for better or worse, the first game’s “signature” companion. (The best companion, of course, was Jolee Bindo, and anyone who disagrees may duel me.)

As to how she was presented, most often she was placed in packaging/promotion/etc. as light-side counterpart to Darth Nihilus, a being who was dark side incarnate — but also someone could never be evil because he’d forsaken all humanity, given himself up to only his putrid hunger, so long ago, and was just nothing.3 The cover itself features her facing off against a Sith, once again painting her as the Jedi in the game’s “Jedi v. Sith” view.

Gotta be honest: if you know anything about Nihilus, this seems a tad unfair fight.

Gotta be honest: if you know anything about Nihilus, this seems a tad unfair fight. See also this image of the fight and this parallel image of the two. In this concept art, lighting is also used to promote the more angelic side of her, as does the emphasis on their colour palettes in the parallel image.

Brian Meze made Atris's model, if you're curious, as well as concept art.4

Trivia: Brian Meze made Atris’s model, as well as concept art.4 Image taken from Jedipedia.

Character design
There’s kind of this false-sagely thing going on with Atris. She’s got the robes, their fancy decoration, and the wizened old hair that’s relatively elaborately styled. These aren’t so much the clothes of an actual sage as much as someone who’s declared themselves “the Prophet!” and is acting as much like cult-royalty as they can.

But most stark and important in her design is the colour scheme, I’d say. It’s almost pure white, up to and including her hair, with a touch of blue (in her eyes, and it does not surprise me the concept art and other media show her with a blue lightsaber). It evokes a sense of heavenliness, the sky, all that, but I think more than that it’s so pure white it just seems cold. Since the Jedi are generally depicted, both in the game and out of it, as wearing earth-brown robes, it actually serves to isolate her more. It also makes her seem frankly even more out-of-touch than the rest of these Force-loving arses.

Name
Atris is a word, sort of. It’s Latin, one tense for ater, which can be taken to mean “dark”, “gloomy, sad, dismal, unlucky” or perhaps malevolent. I could say this is intentional foreshadowing, but given the sci-fi nature of most of the names and the fact it’s some odd tense I’m inclined to view it as coincidence. Given that Kreia was apparently named after Leia with a harsher prefix, however,5 so I’m also inclined to think it has some connotations.

My guess is this: starting the letter with an “A” sound immediately brings up associations with angel. This is then vaguely undercut by a harsher “tris” sound, which even has a nice hiss at the end. And this is why you must never pronounce Atris’s name as “ah-triss”, heed my warning.

Of course, both things could be intentional, “Oh what a lovely name wait a minute it meants what?” Or perhaps I’m coming out of nowhere. Perhaps her name was picked out of a hat, I’unno.

Footnotes and references
1 It also gets a lot of flak for being incomplete.
2 As mentioned in this interview with Chris Avellone. “Obsidian’s Avellone On Torment, KOTOR 2, Alpha Protocol”, Rock, Paper, Shotgun. April 4, 2013.
3 Nihilus would actually be pretty interesting to write about too, perhaps moreso. Hmm…
4 This piece, specifically I know. Which is also where I got the info Menze made his model. There are a lot of other interesting Knights concept art by him, among other things, if you’re interested in going through his gallery. “Atris”, “brenze” on DeviantART. December 17, 2009.
5“Interview: Chris Avellone, Game Designer, Fallout: New Vegas”. Lightspeed Magazine. November 2010.

Currently, I’ve looked at the very basics of the character, and maybe even then in a more shallow way than I would like. In the next post, I intend to look at the events of the games themselves, as well as her relationship with the Exile. Thanks for reading.

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One thought on “A Light in a Sea of Greys: Analysing Atris and Knights of the Old Republic II (Pt 1: Basics)

  1. I love Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. In fact, the very first post on my main blog, Castle Schadenfreude, has to do with Kreia, whom I call “the Friedrich Nietzsche of Star Wars.” The writing in that game is so strong yet so underappreciated. I am grateful for anyone who takes the time to analyze it, be it you or the feminist gal on The Border House blog.

    In a very real sense, KotOR II is a game about institutional failure, especially the religious kind. Like you said, Atris (along other Masters like Vrook) embodies what the Jedi Order had become: a shell of its former self vainly protecting the outward forms of Jedi orthodoxy, no longer a force for good in the world. When a religious institution, be it the Church or the Jedi Order, becomes so wooden, so insular, so reactionary that it no longer has room for self-criticism, it is no wonder when the galaxy turns against them, nor should it be a surprise when thoughtful folks like Revan start to leave and take people with them.

    This is good so far. I look forward to the rest of your analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

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