I saw a real Jedi in Star Wars: The Old Republic

This is a Consular's saber, but whatever

Let me tell you about this Jedi Guardian named Nayelii. She lives on Star Wars: The Old Republic's Ebon Hawk server. She could actually be a he, but the avatar (and the name) seemed female, so that's the pronoun I'm going with at the moment.

I say "seemed" because Nayelii was wearing hooded robes, it's fairly dark through most of the Kuat Drive Yards flashpoint, and I tend to play dungeons with my camera at max range. Anyway, that's all beside the point because last weekend Nayelii put on what is unequivocally the best tanking performance I've seen in all my years playing MMORPGs.

Jedi Guardian concept art

Nayelii played like a Jedi.

And I don't mean a non-italicized Jedi of the type that you, I, and a million other mortals can use to faceroll through story quests in BioWare's Star Wars MMO. I mean a Jedi as in the type of Jedi that I dreamt about as a kid before the Expanded Universe, before the prequels, and before the term basically turned into a sci-fantasy cliche and an unfortunate victim of its own oversaturation.

See, in the original Star Wars trilogy, the Jedi were all but extinct. There was Yoda, Luke, Vader, Ben Kenobi, and that's about it. The Clone Wars were either the cryptic ramblings of a strange old hermit or some sort of galactic urban legend, or maybe both, and the general lack of lightsabers on screen during the three films conspired to elevate Jedi to a near-mythical status that's hard to explain to fans born after 1985.

When I was a kid, my friends and I played with our Star Wars figures for days on end and sat reverently in front of grainy VHS copies of the original trilogy, speaking about Jedi in hushed whispers if at all. They were unknowable, unattainable, and seemingly unkillable demigods who fired my malleable imagination right up until they became altogether commonplace when Star Wars exploded all over again in the late 1990s. Ever since, Jedi have been omnipresent across the sprawling license, and they're especially plentiful inside SWTOR. Unfortunately, though, very few SWTOR players know how to actually pilot them as Jedi.

This is partly on BioWare and partly on the fact that MMOs have to conform to certain mechanical expectations. You can't have a god class, really. Well, you can, but then you end up with a title like Star Wars Galaxies, where min-max grinders with one-track minds ignore everything else in a given game because they have to have the god class.

As a result, most Jedi in SWTOR are pretty pathetic representations of "real" Jedi. And by real of course I mean Jedi as we've seen in films, books, comics, and other games. SWTOR Jedi have to fight health bars, and they have to be balanced for PvP alongside the game's non-Force-users because heaven forbid a Jedi Shadow walk up to an Imperial Sniper and end his irritating life with a single swipe of his saber. That wouldn't be fun for the Sniper, though it would be fun for IP purists, and it would be -- dare I say it -- Star Warsy and iconic.

Consular concept art

Anyhow, where was I? Right, Nayelii.

Nayelii, a 39 Guardian at the time, tanked my PUG through one of last week's interminable KDY flashpoints. For those not into SWTOR and who have no clue what I'm talking about: KDY is basically an instanced four-person dungeon with random objectives that doesn't enforce the usual tank-healer-two-DPS party makeup and that buffs everyone's level to max. You can roll through it with four damage dealers if they're good enough, or you can make do with some other mishmash. In this particular case, I don't even remember who or what the other two members of my party were playing or doing.

Nayelii absolutely spanked that flashpoint, and while most of my KDY PUGs clocked in somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes, this one was over in literally half the time. Nayelli was seemingly everywhere at once, bludgeoning mobs on one side of a corridor while simultaneously cutting down a remote attacker with a well-timed saber toss and zipping to and fro in a kinetic, balletic dance that was both inspiring and -- as a fellow Guardian -- humbling. She didn't lose aggro, ever, and she did a surprisingly huge amount of damage to the final boss.

Nayelii wasn't just efficient, though. There was a certain and deadly artistry to that run. For the first time in hundreds of SWTOR hours, here was an actual Jedi at work, and at the risk of getting silly over a video game performance, I have to say that it was electric to watch. Unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to turn on Fraps or even take a screenshot, mainly because I was too busy mouthing holy crap at my monitor as I went through my own rotations and enjoyed the show.

In a way, it was a rewind to my youth and a sort of ode to how Jedi have always existed in my mind's eye: untouchable, unrelenting, and graceful to a fault. I've never truly been immersed in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but that KDY run with Nayelii absolutely allowed me to step outside of the usual MMO bullshit and briefly visit a galaxy far, far away. For fifteen minutes there, I was an average grunt supporting a Jedi general as she cut through wave after wave, leading us toward our objective and ultimately completing the mission with both style and ruthless abandon.

Look, I have a 50 Guardian. I know the abilities, and I know my way through most of the game's flashpoints well enough to lead a successful group. But Nayelii took it to a level that I didn't know was possible. I've never seen anything quite like that run in an MMO, and certainly not in SWTOR.

It was a virtuoso tanking performance and a benchmark for playing a Jedi in every sense of the word. And for a few brief moments it allowed an otherwise by-the-numbers themepark to recreate the magic of its source material.