Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has turned 20 years old, but its visual legacy remains as iconic as ever. Despite being relegated to “Legends” status when Disney first purchased Lucasfilm, key elements of the game continue to influence the galaxy far, far away. Name drops and story bits have frequently popped up across all canonical media, and the look and designs of Star Wars’ ancient past have made the jump as well.
BioWare’s Concept Art Director John Gallagher, along with Art Director Derek Watts, were responsible for creating the iconic look of the characters and setting of the game. For KotOR’s 20th anniversary, io9 caught up with Gallagher (who was generous enough to share some never before seen concept art from his personal storage) to discuss his work on Knights of the Old Republic and its continued legacy.
Funny enough, Gallagher himself has remained largely unaware of its larger impact on the Star Wars fandom until the last few years! This is mostly because shortly after KotOR launched, Gallagher stepped back from the gaming industry, choosing instead to work in movies and television.
Jordan Maison, io9: You had no idea KotOR was this big?
John Gallagher: I really, genuinely didn’t know! I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to assume. I know [now] there’s an enormous amount of enthusiasm and devoted fandom. Last year, I went to a Comic-Con in Grand Prairie, Alberta… I became an honorary member of the 501st. They did a full induction ceremony for me; it was actually quite touching. I wasn’t expecting to be that emotional, but it was really lovely.
io9: When did it hit you?
Gallagher: I started going to Comic-Cons as a guest artist in 2013. I [brought] a Darth Revan print and an HK-47 print, because those are two characters I designed. People were coming up and asking, “You worked on Knights of the Old Republic?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve gotten in a lot of fights too!” [Laughs]
Someone had done a beautiful cosplay of Darth Revan I was [so impressed by]. I just had the weirdest feeling, and really, it was a great one.
io9: You were already a Star Wars fan before working on KotOR though?
Gallagher: I saw Star Wars when I was 10 … and it blew my brain apart. My mom said I pointed at the screen and said, “I’m going to do that.” I [didn’t] know what “that” [was] … but I felt like I should be doing that.
io9: With that in mind, what was the reaction like when you found out you’d be working on a Star Wars game?
Gallagher: I can paint the picture for you. [BioWare’s] Ray [Muzyka] and Greg [Zeschuk] brought everybody into the main meeting room; and at that time, we could all still fit one room. Ray and Greg were like, “Okay, for our next project, we have two options … One is a thing with Sony: it’s gonna be a mascot game. And the other one is Star Wars.”
And we all went, “Of course we want to do Star Wars, are you out of your minds?!” They even made us do a hand check. “How many people want to do the Sony one?” Like three dudes put up their hands for the Sony one. Then everybody else—like a daunting majority—said of course, Star Wars.
There’s nothing more coveted than working on a Star Wars title. Especially fresh new content in an era that nobody had been to before. In 50 years people will still be debating Star Wars and having the opportunity to be a part of that, and … to write a love letter to the thing that started it for me was pretty amazing.
io9: When you started developing art for the game, how did you balance being a fan, while also doing something unique and fresh?
Gallagher: We got together—the design department and the art department—and started riffing on big ideas. Star Wars doesn’t exhaust you with its designs, and it’s very much an elegantly simple universe in terms of its shapes, form, language, and its palettes. It’s rich and deep and beautiful too, of course.
[But] you have to extract your sentiment [for] the best possible outcome. In other words, it’s okay to be nostalgic for Star Wars, it’s okay to be sentimental… but it’s also critical to serve what you’re attempting to do with the project.
You have to honor and respect that it’s not about me when [I] create something. You know who taught me that? Ralph McQuarrie. I had the chance to meet him [while working] on the game. He is the guru. His work is timeless; so what a privilege to be able to talk to him! Ralph was so accommodating to, effectively, a total stranger.
io9: There’s no denying Darth Revan has become an iconic figure in the franchise. So what was the process in creating their distinctive look? How did Revan become… well, Revan (visually speaking)?
Gallagher: I have to be clear… I was part of a very big team. I’m not going for individual glory on this one. When people say I created Darth Revan: absolutely not. [I] designed Revan. James [Ohlen] and his team initially created them, and then the animators, voice actors, and programmers brought that character alive. I just happened to be one guy in a long chain.
I try to create characters with a memorable hook. James and I talked a lot … and we’d have a loose list of things we needed to touch on. [I was] given a three-line description, and I’d kind of ask him between the lines, “tall, short, muscular, slim, elegant, mysterious. How do you see this character playing?”
io9: What were some of those guidelines for Revan?
Gallagher: “Mysterious.” Indeterminate whether you’re male or female, with an inscrutable mask. Let’s get the eye slots like a Mandalorian but a little more tribal. So I started looking [for] inspiration [among] mid-African tribes of the 16th, 17th, 18th century, and what some of their ornamentation looked like. I lined that up with some Star Wars inspo and got Revan in about 20 minutes. I did one sketch. One marker sketch; and did an adjustment to the color. Then I was like, oh, there we are.
io9: How do you feel about your experience/role in Knights of the Old Republic?
Gallagher: It’s awesome! [Laughs] I haven’t got anything but good things to say about it … Any creator, whether they’re part of a team, or doing it themselves, doesn’t want to be forgotten. I was fortunate enough to be in this impossible scenario [with a] team committed to creating excellence.
And we did it. I don’t know how many other people felt that way, but I’m absolutely certain, and it was an honor to be a part of.
While Gallagher himself would be reluctant to compare his works in Star Wars to that of Ralph McQuarrie, there’s no denying the massive impact his own concept designs have had in shaping the galaxy. In that, the two share a common factor. Perhaps, with these newly revealed concept pieces he’s kindly shared, we’ll see even more of his efforts influence new stories going forward. Scroll through to see more!