Star Wars Bounty Hunter Interview - Director Jon Knoles

The creative director of Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Jon Knoles, discusses the game's contributions to both Star Wars history and game design.

Star Wars Bounty Hunter Interview - Director Jon Knoles

Time has been kind to’ prequel era. What was once decried as an abomination has become beloved by many, and while the excellent deserves much of the credit many of its best elements were established in prior works. One such trailblazer is 2002’s Star Wars Bounty Hunter.

Released soon after Attack of the Clones, Bounty Hunter serves as a companion piece, filling in plot holes and adding substantial depth to numerous new characters. The game follows bounty hunter Jango Fett as he tracks down the dark Jedi-turned-drug lord Komari Vosa, earns the privilege of being the template for the Grand Army of the Republic, and decides to father Boba Fett. Much like the best episodes of the Clone Wars, it's a story filled with deep cuts of the franchise's lore, complex characters, grimy politics, and traumatized Sith. It is essential Star Wars.

Related: How Star Wars Bounty Hunter Influenced The Clone Wars Canon

Recently, Screen Rant had the privilege of talking with the creative director of Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Jon Knoles, for an extensive dive into the game’s history. Knoles shares his inspirations for the story, the important contributions George Lucas made to the game, and the ways in which Boba and Jango influenced one-another. Knoles discusses Bounty Hunter's edgy depiction of the Sith, with the mentally traumatized Komari Vosa establishing a template that future characters, like Maul and Ventress, would follow. Knoles also details Bounty Hunter's prescient game design, where narrative fuses with gameplay to give not just the world, but even collectibles, a sense of grimy purpose. Finally, Knoles describes the unique challenges of producing a game based on a film in the middle of production with story changes, leading to multiple complexities. It's a rich, informative conversation about a vital part of Star Wars history.

Bounty Hunter enriches many elements of Attack of the Clones and feels like a necessary companion piece. How was the game crafted alongside the film? Did Lucas have any involvement in the creation of the story?

From the start, when I was asked to make a game based on Attack of the Clones, which I was reluctant to after 10 years of Star Wars games at that point already, I didn’t want to retell the story of the movie. It would be an original story featuring the film’s most interesting character to me personally, Jango Fett. When I first read the Episode II script, I was surprised to learn that Boba Fett is a clone of Jango. As a fan of Boba Fett lore, I wanted to remap a lot of that mythology to Jango, but I would need to get George Lucas’s blessing.The team at Lucasfilm Licensing were receptive to my initial story idea, and suggested I come up with a list of 10 yes or no questions to send George Lucas. Those included things like: Can I explain how Dooku/Tyranus chose Jango to be the template for the clone army by creating a contest among the galaxy’s most elite bounty hunters to capture a deranged former pupil of his? Can I give Jango a handler or broker (Rozatta) to serve as a voice of conscience for him? Can I explain why Jango wanted a son? Can I explain how he came to own the Slave I? Can I apply some of the Boba Fett and Mandalorian myths and lore to Jango? Can I explain how Jabba became a kingpin, can we kill off Gardulla the Hutt? Etc.

The answers to nearly all the questions I gave George Lucas were “yes” in his trademark red ball point pen. He went further, even writing in the margins of the page, offering insight into how he thought of Jango. When I asked if I could give Jango a revenge motive, for example, he wrote “keep it about the money,” and wrote the simple reason Jango wanted a son was, “In a word, legacy.” The gist of it was that Jango is a mercenary, motivated by money, but he’s also human. We all want to pass on something of ourselves. It was fantastic feedback, which encouraged me to start writing it all out.

Can you tell me more about the origin of the game’s story and Lucas responses to your questions? It sounds like Lucas inspired you quite a bit.

Once I decided the game’s story would chronicle how Jango came to be the template for the clone army and I got George Lucas’s approval to do so, including many of the other things I’d asked him, that meant it would take place ten years before the events of Episode II. That meant having a solid understanding of what all the characters we’d feature were doing at that time. What was Dooku/Tyranus doing? Could he have had a former apprentice that he wanted dead (Vosa)? Was Zam an accomplished bounty hunter or was she just starting out? It also provided an opportunity to develop a backstory for Jango that would explain his rivalry with Montross (a name I pulled from George Lucas’ second screenplay draft of The Star Wars. Always liked that name, sounded menacing). One of the first scenes I wrote was near the end of the game, where Vosa tells Jango, “I must have cut down 20 of your kind myself,” which is a reference to a battle where Montross betrayed Jango’s mentor and left him to die while he escaped, telling his men he actually saw him killed (like Barnes did to Elias in the movie Platoon).

What were some of the elements of Boba’s history that inspired you?  Can you tell me some more about that?

In order to help explain Jango’s motivation for wanting a son, I needed him to have a mentor when he was young, someone who showed him the way of the Mandalorian Warrior. I also wanted to reapply some of Boba’s now defunct backstory to Jango, described in "The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett" short story written by Daniel Keys Moran in the Tales of the Bounty Hunters anthology, which until Attack of the Clones was considered EU canon. It’s not a direct remapping – in that story, Jaster Mereel was Boba’s actual name. We gave that name to Jango’s mentor, and to Jango’s ship Jaster’s Legacy, which we decorated with symbols and colors taken from Boba Fett’s armor. And the planet that Boba Fett was rumored to have been from, Concord Dawn, we made Jango’s homeworld. Keeping some of the lost mythos alive.

What can you say about the characterization of Jango? What is your opinion on his death scene? Did you draw any inspirations from it and Attack of The Clones, in general?

Jango Fett is a mercenary. He hunts others, dead or alive, for money. This doesn’t make him a villain in my view, though that was clearly his , just as it was Boba Fett’s role in the original trilogy. I had to think of him as a more complex character when I wrote the story for Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. He has his own moral code, which enables him to take actions a traditional hero may not. He lives a dangerous and solitary life, but also a lucrative one. This presents him with an internal dilemma – what’s it all for? Is it only about the money, or is there something else driving him?

We learn in Attack of the Clones that when he was recruited to be the template for the clone army, he accepted on one condition – apart from his considerable pay – which is that he wanted the first clone for himself, unmodified. In other words, he wanted a son. Why would he do that? How was he chosen? Those two questions from the movie were the core inspiration for the game’s story. I set out to answer those questions by giving him an impossible quest for the ultimate bounty (how he was chosen), and a final reward in the form of a son in order to pass on his legacy (why he wanted the first clone).

I was disappointed by his death in the movie mainly because of how quickly it happened, just like , but if you go toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful Jedi to have ever lived, that’s pretty much how you should expect it to end. Early cuts of the film had a longer fight scene between Mace Windu and Jango, which would have been fun to watch, but it didn’t move the plot forward, so I understand why it was cut. Personally, I think George Lucas wanted to make sure Jango wasn’t resurrected in expanded universe fiction the way Boba was. Like, I killed him, and you people brought him back to life, good luck bringing this one back!

Unlike many modern games, Jango doesn't have a clear redemption arc. What value do you see in the portrayal of such a genuine anti-hero?

In any hero’s journey, even an anti-hero’s, there must be clear and compelling intent and obstacle that moves the plot forward toward an inevitable, yet hopefully surprising conclusion that you didn’t see coming. His intent is clear: Capture or kill the ultimate bounty, Komari Vosa, and collect a staggering 5 million credit reward. The catch; he’s not the only one on the hunt. The strongest obstacle Jango will face is his antagonist Montross, who is after the same thing and will stop at nothing to beat him. But obstacles often also come from the heroes themselves in the form of self-doubt, denial, or fear. Jango doesn’t express those, so Rozatta fills that role: “It’s too dangerous even for you!” or “when are you going to settle down, meet a nice girl, have a kid? You won’t live forever!”

A hero, or anti-hero, must also undergo transformative change over the course of their journey, whether it’s redemption, enlightenment, or something else. At the beginning, it’s only about the money for Jango. He trusts no one and always works alone. Over the course of the story, he begrudgingly takes the less experienced adversary Zam Wesell on as a partner, and comes to trust her, if only a little bit. He also loses his only real ally, Roz, but takes her last words to heart – “Find something else to live for besides the money, Jango.” She didn’t plant this idea in his head – it’s that internal dilemma he’s always had. He feels compelled to pass on his legacy. If he did have a fear, I imagined it would be loss of his fierce independence. Perhaps that’s another reason that he didn’t want Boba to be modified in any way like the other clones were. He wanted Boba to become a lone hunter with a mind and a moral compass of his own, just like him. That’s why I made Vosa’s threat to control his mind and make him her slave something that clearly upset him. Perhaps, like Anakin, he knew what it was like to be a slave from his own childhood.

I like how you describe Jango's attachment to independence but his simultaneous desire for connection. In your opinion, in what ways did Temuera Morrison bring these elements to life?

Temuera Morrison really enjoyed playing the role of Jango and was delighted to have an entire story dedicated to his character who only spoke a few lines in the movie, and here we had well over an hour’s worth of dialogue. He was also incredibly fun and energetic during the voice sessions, wanting to know the context for each scene, hearing the other character’s spoken lines so that he could deliver his with the right pace and tone – especially when reading the lines for his face-off with Montross, voiced by Clancy Brown. In some cases, we had storyboards or animatics to provide him with even more scene information. This made his voice session move a bit slower than you’d have with voice actors who can power through hundreds of lines of dialogue in just a few hours, but the results were worth it.

We even recorded his voice for a final scene that we never made, taking place ten years later, just before the events of Attack of the Clones, where Jango and Boba look out over the clone army from his apartment window on Kamino. In just a few words, Temuera imbued Jango with a lot of fatherly pride after Boba tells him, frowning, that he’s different than the soldiers below them. Jango tells him, putting a hand on his shoulder, “You are different, Boba. And you’re my son.”

Vosa's lightsabers are eventually given to Ventress, the beloved . That is to say, Bounty Hunter and its characters continue to reverberate in the larger universe even if some of the specific details no longer are canon. How do you see the games’ role in the Star Wars universe? Did you interact with other writers to tie it into a greater narrative?

As for what is canon and what isn’t, that’s never been important to me, except that we had to respect what was truly was canon – which was at the time only the films and the radio shows. Everything else in the EU was something we tried to be respectful of and consistent with, but it wasn’t canon. I’m pleased that many characters or situations we invented for the games live on in Star Wars. Or casting choices: I was delighted to see Clancy Brown, who provided the voice of Montross, also play a role in The Mandalorian. Is that coincidence, or a nod to SWBH? Vosa is dead, but Ventress carried on much of what inspired her character, including her twin curved lightsabers, which is pretty cool.

Komari Vosa was greatly inspired by a couple of things that made an impact on me at the time; a spooky female Sith concept by Iain McCaig who carried a curved lightsaber (who was close in appearance to what Ventress became), as well as an early Darth Maul concept that was deemed “too scary” believe it or not – lots of scars, thorned headdress and such. The other was the idea of a villain so ruthless and frightening that they became legend, a ghost story, like Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects. Vosa and the Bando Gora cult she led were also partly inspired by the creepy Wendol fiends from the 1999 action film retelling of the Beowulf legend, The 13th Warrior.

To develop the game’s backstory further, most of which wouldn’t be covered in great detail in the game, but were important to nail down – such as past conflict between the Jedi and Mandalorians and Komari Vosa’s role in that, as well as Jango’s childhood and mentorship under Jaster Mereel, how Montross betrayed them, etc. – was devised in collaboration with LucasArts colleague Haden Blackman, who put his immense knowledge of the Star Wars EU and his storytelling chops to work developing those ideas further with his Jango Fett: Open Seasons story for Dark Horse Comics, pages of which you could also unlock in the game as supplemental content.

I love how you described your creation of Vosa. There’s a palpable trauma to her, even in her appearance. Can you say anything more about your inspiration for Vosa to be such a pained character?

I made Vosa a former pupil of Dooku, once a Jedi Master, who he also secretly trained in the dark side of the Force until he abandoned her when the Jedi Council deemed her unfit to be a Jedi Knight. Enraged and betrayed, she escaped their punishment and joined a doomed Jedi force sent to stop the Bando Gora. She and others were captured and subjected to physical and mental torture, driving her mad and deeper to the dark side. She even killed her fellow Jedi prisoners, not to spare them from more torture, but to demonstrate her power over her captors, becoming their leader, and using them to exact her revenge on Dooku. What happened to her is similar to those with Stockholm Syndrome, where the abducted ultimately side with their captor, but because of her Force powers, she was able to take over completely.

Related: Star Wars Reveals Who Caught Luke's Lightsaber On Cloud City

It's interesting how Vosa, herself brainwashed and tortured, uses the death sticks to control people. Do you see her trauma as playing a role in the evolution of the drug?

Death sticks, which were just the set up for a chuckle in Attack of the Clones where Obi-Wan uses his Jedi powers to make a death stick dealer “go home and rethink his life,” became a great McGuffin for the story. We can assume that death sticks are bad for you as the name implies, but also popular. Maybe it’s a new trend that’s spreading across the galaxy. Vosa sees this an opportunity, using death sticks as the means to an end, a way to get revenge on Dooku on a huge scale. Think of her Bando Gora raiders as mindless, bloodthirsty killers she would order to carry out suicidal raids on Trade Federation starships and other high value industry targets, disrupting Dooku’s deals with them. They are expendable. She needs an endless supply of weak-minded souls to control. Death sticks provide that when modified with the Bando Gora’s own neurotoxin, enabling her to control minds anywhere in the galaxy simply by meditating from her citadel on a hidden moon. I imagined the Bando Gora had used that neurotoxin on Vosa and her fellow prisoners. Maybe they used poison-tipped finger claws, explaining her scars. When Vosa tells Jango “they have ways of weakening your mind and breaking your will,” maybe that’s what she’s talking about.

Playing Bounty Hunter today, the game feels prescient. The gameplay itself feels fused to the narrative. There's always a clear purpose to the action. What can you say about the design from this standpoint? How did the narrative influence the gameplay and vice versa?

I had a lot of help fusing narrative and gameplay from my lead level designer David Wehr and his talented team of designers whose job it was to serve up moment-to-moment action that made sense to the player and with the story. He wanted to understand the logic, the nuts and bolts, of this idea I had, that Komari Vosa’s scheme to combine her Bando Gora and Jedi mind control powers with a new, more potent Death Stick in order to expand her army of raiders and assassins and wreak havoc on Dooku and his master’s plans across the galaxy.

That meant we had to map out whole Death Stick trafficking operation, which Jango would need to systematically unravel in order to locate Vosa, who like any criminal mastermind would have a lot of safeguards and intermediaries in place to keep her location a secret. There were also some locations we absolutely wanted to feature, like Coruscant, because of the amazing Episode II concept art we were seeing,  both the seedy lower city and the opulent upper city. And Tatooine, with Jango right in the middle of feuding Hutt crime lords. And an asteroid prison. And a Death Stick factory deep in a jungle. And Rozatta’s run down space station as a starting point. Once that structure was mapped out, the rest was filling in details, building levels and situations that advanced the plot, and populating them with enemies to get in Jango’s way.

The narrative design is truly incredible on a macro scale, but even on a micro level the game has tons of relevant detail with locations often telling a story. Sebolto’s compound especially stood out to me with his home built atop Dug ruins. Then as you progress towards the inner sanctum the species of the enemies becomes more homogeneous, implying Sebolto only trusts his fellow Dugs. Can you tell me about the design of this location or perhaps another environment if there’s one you remember in particular?

Michael Licht, the designer who built the Malastare levels including Sebolto’s compound, put a great deal of thought and paper design into the layout and logical flow of each level, how it should feel open and sprawling, but always funnel the player closer to Sebolto and his royal guards. Sebulba, the bad podracer from Episode I, was one of my favorite prequel characters – he was mean, but also amusing. We imagined Sebolto was a king of the same species on their homeworld, and even meaner. Like any kingpin, he’d only surround himself with the most trusted of his tribe. We also had an amazing concept art team, who helped give his compound – and all of the game levels – a visual consistency and logic, and an authentic interpretation of the seedy underbelly of Star Wars.

Aside from the level design itself, the bounties also provide detail about the world. Some are darkly humorous, like a bounty on an Ewok slave trader, while others disturb, like those ones involving a freedom fighting group trying to free enslaved Twi'lek's from Jabba's sex trafficking ring. What did you want players to take away from the bounties?

The side-bounties were mainly an optional collection mechanic. But also one that would hopefully prompt the player to pause and decide whether to claim them dead or alive based on the offense they were accused of, or the price on their head, using their own moral compass to decide which. That’s something I wish we could have taken further, with consequences based on your decisions. Early on, it would be a player choice to decide whether to kill or capture alive the first story bounty, Meeko Ghintee, and your decision would affect whether or not he appeared later in the asteroid prison escape.

Building off those last points, the environmental storytelling, from the bounties to some NPC comments, implies an intense Xenophobia between the species. The Dugs especially seem to be looked down upon. What can you say about interspecies relations in the Star Wars universe? Did it play a role in the crafting of the game's story and world?

On the one hand, the world of Star Wars is generally an inclusive one, and ahead of its time in that respect. It was normal to have a giant, hairy, Wookie copilot who growls and barks, or strong female leaders like Princess Leia and Mon Mothma, or droids who seem to share human emotions. On the other hand, there’s tension and conflict – “Droids, we don’t serve their kind here!” And, “Would someone get this walking carpet out of my way!” or, “Bounty Hunters, we don’t need their scum!” Tusken Raiders were also seen by most inhabitants of Tatooine as mindless killers, but they also too had families and stories of their own. The Empire was almost exclusively human, but they would enlist aliens to do their dirty work.

We didn’t delve much into that – it wasn’t germane to the story, but most of the enemies we threw in Jango’s path were alien species you saw as baddies or henchmen in the movies like Rodians, Grans, Dugs, Trandoshans, etc. We also didn’t want Jango running around blasting humans all the time, because we were mindful to keep a Teen rating. I guess in retrospect, we had our own bias there, treating aliens as more expendable than humans.

As you say the Star Wars universe generally is inclusive in its on screen presentation, with the exception of the predominately human empire, but that there are these dark undertones implied in both alien relations and crime. Did these inspire any of the details of the game?

I don’t think any of the game’s characters or situations were directly inspired by that sort of thing, except perhaps the brief “rap sheets” for some of the side-bounty hunts. The Hutt cartel and others clearly had their grimy mitts in all kinds of unsavory affairs and would put bounties on humans, aliens, or droids alike. The Bando Gora were intentionally dehumanized (much like Jawas or Tusken Raiders). It’s not clear if they are, or ever were, ever human, but it’s possible they could have been. Part of the fun coming up with stories with the vast diversity of Star Wars universe is that if you need a new alien species to serve a specific role, good or bad or in-between, you can invent one. When Jango asks about the Bando Gora, Jabba says he doesn’t deal with “such scum,” but doesn’t say why (maybe because he detests weak-minded zealots).

Aside from the detail of the story and world, Jango's arsenal also feels authentic and grounded as it all must be utilized in the game. How did Jango's various gadgets and weaponry factor into the game's design?

The jetpack was a crucial part of the fantasy fulfillment of playing Jango Fett, and nailing down that mechanic was crucial to level design, as were his dual blasters. We developed an innovative dual arm auto-aiming system that would prioritize both blasters toward an enemy you were facing, but would find a secondary target for one of the blasters to track, giving Jango a very dynamic way of dispatching enemies from all directions. His wrist flamethrower and cables were also signature tools of his trade, which level designers put to good use. Both very powerful, but also risky because you had to get close to your target to use them. We even had a couple of levels that focused on sniper rifle play, one involving you providing distant cover for Zam as she attempts to infiltrate Sebolto’s compound.

Speaking of Jango's weapons, the most powerful weapon in the game, apart from the multi missiles, is totally the poison dart. Jango's introduction in Attack of The Clones is him using a dart to kill Zam. Did you wish to convey anything by making the darts so powerful?

The poison Kyber Dart was thought of as a one shot/one kill weapon, and with very limited quantity and challenge to use. It required manual aim (if I recall correctly), which made it exceptionally risky to use in a firefight. Big risk, big reward. As a side note, we didn’t know Jango would use one to kill Zam in Epsiode II until we had already created a story that featured a partnership, if tenuous, between them. And we didn’t learn Zam was an alien shapeshifter until very late in development, which made some of the “will they/won’t they” semi-flirtations exchanges seem odd after seeing the movie if Jango knew she was an alien, which we assumed he didn’t for the purposes of the game story. I even wrote a chapter of the game we never made that takes place ten years later, during the events of Episode II, where Jango subcontracts Zam to assassinate Padme for Count Dooku as a favor to Nute Gunray, which provided more context to the scene in the movie where Anakin destroys Zam’s assassin droid and the ensuing chase through Coruscant. She messed up the job, and Jango had no choice but to silence her and protect his client’s identity.

Making a game based on a film with changing production sounds stressful. Were there other surprised that weren’t in the earlier versions of the script?

There were few other late changes to Episode II during development, which is one of the reasons I’m glad we didn’t make a game which closely followed the film. Having to react to those types of changes can be brutal if making a “game of the movie” but it didn’t affect us much. The unique sound of Jango’s blasters in the final Geonosis arena battle against Mace Windu was a fairly late add in the movie, and one which we didn’t match in game mainly because it didn’t work well in a constant firing mode, but also because it didn’t match the sound of his blasters in the fight with Obi-Wan earlier in the film (that was apparently a specially made, more powerful replacement for the one he lost in the fight with Kenobi).

Next: Star Wars - The Fate of Darth Vader's Inquisitors Confirmed?

Source : Screen Rant More