In 2000, a small Canadian video game studio named BioWare was given an opportunity. The famed publisher LucasArts was looking for a tie-in to the next Star Wars movie, Episode II, but BioWare wanted to use their newly-acquired Star Wars license to create something entirely new. The vision put forth by writer Drew Karpyshyn was that of a time long before the Skywalkers, back to an age where the Jedi were plentiful, and the Sith warred against them across the galaxy. One had to wonder if a story so far removed from the Star Wars movies would be successful.
In 2003, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic would be exclusively released on PC and Xbox. The classic RPG puts the player in control of a created character and a multifaceted crew of misfits ranging from an outcast Wookie to a Cathar looking for redemption. Their goal is to find the mystery behind a strange piece of technology and defeat the Sith Lord Malak in his quest to destroy the universe. The vibrant characters and excellent story made this game a classic, but the twist ending has elevated this game to “all-time” status.
As it is known to some, KOTOR became a massive success for BioWare. Sequels, comics, and eventually an MMO were spawned from this franchise. Many of the original characters from the game went on to make other appearances in other media, and characters such as Revan and Bastila have become small icons of the former Star Wars Expanded Universe. But other companions of that first game seemed to fade into obscurity. One of these was a black hermit who was not forthcoming about his past—a hermit who also happens to carry a lightsaber.
As stated, the player character will meet Jolee Bindo on a mission to the jungle planet Kashyyyk, home of the Wookies. He lived in exile in a small hut in perpetual darkness, similar in style and scope to Yoda’s hut on Dagobah in the Star Wars movies. Voiced by the iconic Kevin Michael Richardson, Jolee has a deep richness to his annoyed barbs directed at the player. One can feel the care he put into each voice line in a game that is focused on the story and setting. Jolee is older and entirely bald, with brown skin and a white goatee.
He acts more senior than he appears, often criticizing the player with “back in my day” type quips and quotes. Finding out about Jolee’s self-imposed exile is one of the more decadent moments of lore in the entire series, but unlocking his whole story is extremely hard to do. The player character must continually prod and persuade Jolee to reveal his past. Once the puzzle of Jolee is entirely pieced together, the story of trial and tragedy is one of the more powerful moments of lore in the entire KOTOR universe.
When Jolee Bindo was younger, he was a new Jedi learning the ways of the force as a padawan in the Jedi temple on Coruscant. However, the stubborn, headstrong Jolee pushed back against the Jedi and their teachings, eventually defying their orders to help the planet Ukatis. He smuggled supplies to the people of Ukatis as the king imposed harsh rules against his people. Jolee was eventually found out and shot down by a young woman named Nayama. Instead of being upset, the two fell in love and eventually married, defying Jedi teachings. Jolee eventually became aware of Nayama’s force sensitivity.
Still, instead of sending her to the Jedi masters for training, he instead trained her himself, again in violation of the Jedi code. When the Sith amassed forces under the leadership of Exar Kun, Jolee and Nayama went off to fight the new threat to the galaxy. However, Nayama was swayed to the dark side and turned on Jolee Bindo.
They fought a lightsaber duel, and Jolee won the battle, but Jolee could not bring himself to kill his wife. Nayama would escape and fight on as a Sith before she was eventually killed and the Sith defeated by the Jedi forces. Grief-stricken Jolee Bindo went back to face the judgment of the Jedi council, but instead of punishing him, he was offered a promotion in rank to Jedi Knight. At this moment, Jolee’s faith in the Jedi way shattered, and he went into self-imposed exile on the planet Kashyyk living out his days grieving and alone.
Jolee Bindo did not see the force as two sides divided into “light” and “dark” but instead believed it was a continuum and could not be defined by something like a Jedi or Sith code. Love and passion were things not to be shielded from as Jedi but instead were to be cherished and cultivated. Even after his tragedy, Jolee still believed the power of the heart overrides any tenant of the Jedi code. His own story has clear parallels with that of a future Star Wars character Ahsoka, from the Clone Wars saga. One wonders if Jolee’s own story is an inspiration for the shades of gray we find in her own canonical story.
The true tragedy of Jolee Bindo’s story is that excellent lore was lost in the shuddering of the Expanded Universe. Still, there has been a slight expansion of black Jedi characters by Disney themselves. For every Skywalker and Kenobi, there has only been one primary canon black Jedi in the series. Windu will always be cherished, but there needs to be more space made for stories such as Jolee Bindo. With the recent announcement by Playstation that a remake of Knights of the Republic is on the way, Jolee Bindo’s story will once again be at the forefront. Hopefully, Disney will see fit to continue to promote stories like his in creating new black faces to carry the mantle of lightsaber wielder moving forward.
Ryan Files is an avid comic book and video game consumer, reviewer, and critic hailing from the boondocks of Illinois. He has taken his ethnographic cultural studies background and applied it to his love of geekdom. He is a huge Star Wars nerd, Castlevania fanatic, and his power level is definitely over 9000. When he isn’t online writing about how he misses old school beat ’em ups like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or TMNT IV Turtles in Time, he raises his 3 Dora Milaje warrior girls with the most awesome wife a blerd could ask for. You can reach the mumbly one @moblipeg on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.