Friday, January 29, 2010

3960 BBY: Onderon Cutoff

We’ve moved ahead three years in Star Wars chronology, to the year 3960 BBY.

It seems that in these three years the Jedi have still been fighting the Mandalorians. This particular piece of Star Wars chronicle takes us back to the planet of Onderon and its conflict filled moon of Duxon.

The Jedi Revan, leading the Jedi in this particular operation, is looking to dislodge the Mandalorians from the planet and retake it for the Republic. What is interesting to note here is that the leading Jedi is not referred to as ‘The Revanchist’, but simply ‘Revan’.

I’m really looking forward to finding out more about this character in the media to come.

This particular piece of Star Wars history is not a story in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a role-playing game scenario, which has two possible outcomes (moreover, it’s a miniatures scenario, meant to be played out with small actions figures). Since it has two possible outcomes, it’s not the end result that matters to the events of Star Wars history; instead, it’s that the events themselves took place.

Although the Jedi Revan is leading the attacks against the Mandalorians in the large scale, he is not present during this particular skirmish. A rookie team of Republic troops is attempting to cutoff the escape route of some fleeing veteran Mandalorian warriors. Though the Mandalorians are out-manned, they are intent on taking-out as many Republic troops with them as they can.
The most interesting thing about this particular story is who is leading both of these teams. On the Mandalorian side we have Canderous Ordo – a Mandalorian. This is his first appearance in Star Wars chronology, and must be a formidable warrior, since he is matched against none other than Nomi Sunrider!

The inclusion of Nomi Sunrider was a bit of a surprise for me here. She last exited Star Wars history at the year 3986 BBY – a full 26 years ago. Which begs the question, what has she been doing in those 26 years?

What is more, her daughter Vima Sunrider must at least be a knight by this time, having herself been trained by Ulic Qel-Droma. Assuming Nomi was in her late teens to early twenties when we first meet her in the Saga of Nomi Sunrider, she would be in her late fifties to early sixties during this conflict. Her daughter Vima would then be in her late thirties to early forties. I wonder if Nomi took other apprentices in this time. I wonder if Vima is the great Jedi that Master Thon predicted her to be. I wonder what the Sunrider clan has been up to.

Fascinating! I love Star Wars history!

For my next post I’ll be examining other Star Wars RPG scenarios, and how these stories situate themselves in Star Wars Chronology. Until next time my friends, may the Force be with you.

3963 BBY: Knights of the Old Republic issues 49 and 50

Febuary 26th 2010:
With only two issues to comment on, my post today will be rather short. With my last entry concerning the KOTOR comic series, I want to focus on the remainder of the events of the story, and what I liked and disliked overall about the Knights of the Old Republic story arc.

At the end of the day I really enjoyed John Jackson Miller’s work on the KOTOR comic series, and I was blown away by the art of Brian Ching, but in my opinion the series should have ended at issue 35, with Zayne saving the day and clearing his good name.

The stories after issue 35 seemed, to me, like filler (albeit some of them were very entertaining). I really didn’t care too much for the character of Jarael, and issue 48 ended with a dramatic cliffhanger that pictured her wielding Exar Kun’s double bladed lightsaber; a cliffhanger that certainly grabbed my attention. But as it turned out this cliffhanger went nowhere, and Jarael, even though she is a genetic descendant ofJedi Master Arca Jeth, has no Force powers, and is just kind of a regular girl.

Issue 49 and 50 were a bit of a letdown. The story ended with the death of two characters I really didn’t care much about: Chantique and Demigol; and the coming together of Zayne and Jarael. I’m not sure how these events surpass the drama of the ‘murder of the padawans’ story that ended with issue 35. Chantique and Demigol were mildly intriguing characters, but it was hardly worth ending a series with their deaths. I guess one could argue that their deaths were a vehicle to demonstrate that Zayne is the Jedi version of Jerry Seinfeld, ‘even Steven’, or as Marn rightfully points out: “...In the end, everything balances out for you”.

With that being said, it was still nice to see Zayne and Jarael come together at the end of the series. This coupling could lend credence to my theory that Zayne could be a progenitor of the Skywalker family tree, if Vector Volume 1 is anything to go by.

As I’ve said before, I ultimately liked the KOTOR comic series. My favorite aspects were the art of Brian Ching, the character of Zayne Carrick, and the flushing out of the Malak/Revan story line, with my least favorite part being only a mild complaint about the series not ending soon enough. The storyline could have been tightened.
For my next post I’ll be moving on to the Xim material. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

3963 BBY: Knights of the Old Republic Volume 8: Destroyer

In the KOTOR comic series, author John Jackson Miller has impressed me with his ability to create an excellent story. What still leaves me slightly hesitant with regards to his authorship is the diction of his prose. I find it awkward. Writing in the comic book format is one thing, but writing in long prose is another. JJM’s writing in the Lost Tribe of the Sith series still fails to impress me, but his ability to create an intricate story full of plot twists and intrigue, as found in the KOTOR series, is awesome.
So – all criticisms aside – JJM has won me over. I’m a fan. The KOTOR series was a highly enjoyable read, and Zayne Carrick has become one of my favorite Star Wars heroes.

Moving on in the Star Wars Chronology Project, I’ll be examining issues 42-48 of the KOTOR series, which feature the character of Malak, and the return of Demagol. The topics I want to cover in this particular post will be the character of Squint / Alex / Malak, Jarael, Demagol and Rohlan, and lastly the phenomenon of cloning as it has been presented throughout Star Wars mythos.

To begin, the character of Squint, who was later named Alek, and then finally Malak, was a character I only paid attention to in passing while I was reading the KOTOR series. It seems he plays a very large role in the KOTOR video game – a source I will be getting to very soon. After reading the letters to the editor, I realized that Malak and the Revanchist later become Darth Malak and Darth Revan, so I went back into the series and examined more closely the character of Malak, and how he progressed through the story.

At the very beginning of the story, when Malak first meets Zayne, he tells the young padawan “Sometimes you have to enter the darkness to see the light”. His words are very fitting, as it seems that this is what Malak does. As he progresses through the KOTOR story arc, he increasingly becomes darker and more brooding.

This brings me to my next point, which is the character of Jarael. If I only paid attention to Malak in passing, I almost completely dismissed the character of Jareal – even though she was a major player. For some reason I did not find her that compelling, which puts me into the distinct minority if letters to the editor are anything to go by. Time and again in the letters to the editor section of the comics, people commented on the character of Jarael and how interesting she was – and I get why she is interesting – but for some reason this particular character never spoke to me.

At the end of issue 48, she is standing with her former master from her slaver days, equipped with what looks like Mandalorian type armor, and wielding the double bladed lightsaber of Exar Kun – a cliffhanger for sure. Jarael now has my attention.

However, at the end of issue 48 I was left scratching my head, because I think I’m the only Star Wars fan who has never played the KOTOR video game, and I’m unfamiliar with its characters and storyline. So the questions that came to my mind was: is Jarael the ‘Jedi Exile’ I keep reading about? I think I’ve figured everything else out, which is pretty obvious stuff; Malak is Darth Malak, and the Revanchist is Darth Revan. So who is the Jedi Exile? Is it Jarael?

For my birthday last year my wife bought me the KOTOR sourcebook, so it was here I began searching for my answer, but what I found cleared nothing up for me. Jarael’s description on page 213 of that text does not seem to, from a chronological perspective, jive with the description of the Jedi Exile found on page 140. So I’m leading towards the notion that Jarael is not the Jedi Exile.

Even if Jarael is not the Jedi Exile, he storyline has now grabbed my attention. I’m looking forward to finding out how she situates herself in the larger Star Wars universe. I think a clue to this lies at the beginning of the KOTOR story arc, and the vision had by the Covenant. In the vision where Q’anilia predicted that one of the five padawans would bring down the Jedi order, she based her assumption on the red spacesuit each padawan had to wear to pass their trials. Going through the story again, both Jarael and Malak wear the same red spacesuit found in Q’anilia’s vision, which leaves one to ponder if the threat to the order has really past, and what these two characters have to do with it.

Moving on with my reactions to the story, the switch-a-roo between Rohlan and Demigol was a nice twist that I did not catch. It is here I have to give kudos to JJM. As I was reading the story, I did notice the change of character between Rohlan in volume 2 to the “Rohlan” presented in volume three. In my ignorance I felt justified in my earlier criticisms of JJM because I thought “Here we go….the damn writer can’t even keep the characterization of the protagonists consistent throughout the story”. I simply thought that JJM had dropped the ball. Well, I was wrong. What it more, I liked being wrong here, because that meant I was surprised, and I like being surprised.

My next thought was ‘how does this change in story stack up to the KOTOR sourcebook which was published long before the end of this story arc’? I’m not sure it really does. There is one line however, when speaking of Demagol, which states: “…the prisoner in the Jedi’s care falls into a coma en route, drugged in an evident attempt to avoid questions forever” (KOTOR sourcebook pg 196). The term ‘the prisoner’ here seems to gloss over the subject of the sentence, which is Demagol.

My last point of discussion is rather short, but I would like to make a quick note about the theme of cloning in Star Wars. This is more of an observation than anything – but I find that cloning has a distinct absence of the feminine in Star Wars, which is disturbing, but which I think is also meant to be disturbing. Jarael is a ‘clone’ of Arca Jeth, a male. And she is created in a lab by other males. The clones in The Clone Wars are males, made from a male, by other males, all in a sterile lab. In the creation of lives here, the power of the feminine is distinctly absent, except of course in the feminine form of Jarael. Cloning, in this sense, is revealed to be a truly un-natural thing – something, I think, we should be repulsed at.

With that being said however, I thought it pretty cool that Jarael is an offshoot clone of Master Arca Jeth. Jeth is an interesting character from the Sith War timeframe, and the KOTOR series added more depth to this character as the master who knighted Barrsion Draay and Krynda Draay. This storyline gives credence to Jarael’s burgeoning force powers. Like I said before, I look forward to seeing how this character’s story ends up.

My next post will be a blank one to leave room for the end of the KOTOR story arc. In the meantime I’m going to work my way through the chronology of this time period until right before I need to engage with the KOTOR video game, which basically means I’m going to make a post covering all the wizards of the coast RPG material from 3960 BBY to 3956 BBY. Once I cover that stuff I’m going to backtrack to the beginning and cover the two timeframes in the Xim material. Then I’ll move on to the KOTOR game. Until next time my friends, may the Force be with you.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

3963 BBY: Knights of the Old Republic Volume 7: Dueling Ambitions

KOTOR volume 7 had little to do with Jedi, the Force, or the future of the Jedi order – which was a refreshing break. The first half of the issue dealt with a con and a Sith adept, while the second half dealt with the world of organized dueling and the secretive past of Jarael.

KOTOR volume seven moved into the underbelly of the Star Wars universe, and gave the reader a glimpse into the world of the con-artist, and all that goes into picking a mark, organizing the misdirection’s of your con, and planning your escape. It also gave a back-story to one of the forgotten soldiers of the Sith war through the character of Toki Tollikar. The most interesting part of the issue was the second half, and its depiction of the world of dueling.

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the idea of “the con”, how Toki Tollikar fits into the retroactive continuity of the history of the Sith war, and the world of dueling.

Many years ago I used to play the West End games D6 version of the Star Wars role-playing game. My character’s name was Rylan Jaren-Jade. He was a gambler, a confidence man, and part-time gunslinger for hire. He was a helluva lot of fun to play. I had an agreeable GM who was willing to take the story where the players wanted it to go, and was very good at setting up obstacles for us along the way. One of the things I loved to do was play “the con”; I enjoyed picking my mark, setting the stage, and making sure my party had a clean escape (which they never did).

On one particular session, I decided to con not only the in-game NPC’s, but my GM as well. Since my character was a gambler, we would actually play sabacc during some sessions. My GM owned an “official” WEG sabacc deck he got from one of his sourcebooks. I knew the basic outline of our next adventure and that a game of sabacc would be involved. I called the other players involved in the adventure that day and gave them the run-down of my plan. I then set my plan in motion.

I called my GM’S house knowing he was out for a while. I spoke to his sister who was a friend of mine and told her to sneak into his room. I knew where he kept his sabacc deck, and I directed her to where it was. I told her to take from the deck the two of coins, the three of coins, and the Idiot, with a numerical denotation of zero. This hand is called a pure sabacc, and is the highest possible hand to get. I then told her to hide the cards in the couch cushions, where I would pick them up when I arrived. She asked me why she was doing this, and I told her it was for a Star Wars Adventure. There was a bit of an awkward pause, to which she broke the silence with “nerd”, and hung up the phone.

I called my accomplice in the game and told her to make sure she wore an elastic on her wrist, and a long sleeve shirt. She did. We got to the GM’s house, and true to form my GM’s sister placed the cards in the couch cushions. I handed them to my partner in crime and she hid them up her sleeve. We then began to play, and before long Rylan Jaren-Jade had saddled up to the biggest sabacc game of his life. The con in the game was that “Odyssia”, the other player, was also going to join the game, but her sabacc skill was only mediocre at best. It was never Ryaln Jaren-Jade’s intention to win the biggest sabacc pot in Star Wars history, but to keep enough of the attention on himself for Odyssia to win.

At the climax of our sabacc game, and after much goading on my part of the characters in the game along with my GM, it was time to show our hands. Odyssia, of course, won it all with the Idiot’s Array. The expression on my GM’s face was classic, as he was truly dumbfounded as to how she pulled out the only unbeatable hand in the game. Needless to say, we won millions of credits, and funded greater cons for our future adventures.

So, what does all this have to do with KOTOR volume seven? Not much really, except in that I enjoyed reading a story about a con, as I really enjoy “the con”. Our GM was so impressed with our efforts we even watched “The Sting” and “Maverick” after this particular adventure.

After Zayne and the gang completed their con in the tale “Prophet Motive”, the story and the art changes pace. At the heart of “Faithful Executions”, a story about a Sith adept, is a retcon of the Sith war. Like Dossa from “Vindication”, Toki Tollikar was also working for the Sith during this conflict.

Plaristes, in response to my last post, highlighted for me that LFL, through its other titles, has been flushing out the history of the Sith war and adding content around a story we’re already familiar with. This is known as a “retcon”. “Retconning”, as defined by means: "The common situation in fiction where a new story "reveals" things about events in previous stories, usually leaving the "facts" the same (thus preserving continuity) while completely changing their interpretation. For example, revealing that a whole season of "Dallas" was a dream was a retcon. This term was once thought to have originated on the usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics but is now believed to have been used earlier in comic fandom".

So it will be that through the further flushing out of Star Wars history, conflicts in the past will invariably have details added to them. One of those details in this particular issue was Toki Tollikar, a Sith “sleeper agent” for lack of a better description, who, since the defeat of Exar Kun, was left in limbo in his mission to defeat the Jedi.

All retconning aside, Toki Tollikar was pretty cool as far as Sith characters go. What I liked most about him was his bloodlust. He was what I always thought a Sith should be: a stone cold killer who enjoyed killing. With other Sith I’ve encountered so far in the SWCP, I got the sense that they killed because they had to, they killed for power, they killed because someone got in their way, but there always seemed to be an emotional detachment from the acts. Yet with Toki it was different; he actually enjoyed what he was doing, like the way I imagine a serial killer would enjoy killing.

“Dueling Ambitions” was the second and more enjoyable half of KOTOR volume seven. It featured the world of dueling, and resembled, for me, the Star Wars version of the UFC. When explaining the world of dueling, the narrator says: “What had been a blood sport run by crime lords went legit and galaxy wide. When investors saw opportunity in a less-than-lethal circuit run by gaming obsessed Krish, savvy marketing created superstars, attracted sponsors. and gained full legal acceptance”. As I was reading this I thought Miller was describing for me the origins of the UFC. When I read “created superstars”, I immediately thought of George St. Pierre, Brock Lesnar, and Anderson Silva. I was able to identify with Zayne and his reactions to being at the fights, as this was my reaction when I went to UFC 74 for my honeymoon (my wife is pretty cool). I used to go to boxing matches with my dad many years ago, and indeed, I was an amateur boxer as a kid. There was always a fight on at my house growing up. Seeing the world of dueling in Star Wars made me want to write a short story about a down-on-his-luck Barabel shock-boxer looking for his next fight. I love the fights, and all the tacky seediness that surrounds it.

I’m going to finish this post with a small confession: I don’t actually own a TBP of KOTOR volume seven, but I do own the comics, which brings me to my last point. What is missing from the TBPs are the letters to the editor that you find in regular issue comics, and after reading these letters, I felt like I was in some respects out of the loop. On many occasions the readers kept referring to the KOTOR video game, and how they enjoyed reading the comic because there are back story bits here and there. I’ve never played KOTOR, so I was not quite sure of what they were speaking of. The names Darth Malak and Darth Reven kept coming up, and I kept wondering if I’ve missed a vital piece of information in my readings of this series. I really feel like I have. The KOTOR video game is coming up soon in the SWCP, and I have an old x-box set up and ready to go. I hope that after I play the game I’ll know what all those letters to the editor were all about.

For my next post I’ll be reading issues 42-48. The series won’t be completed until February, and I’ll have moved on in the project by then (I think). What I will do is make a blank post for issues 49 and 50 immediately after my next one, so I can later retcon my reactions. Until next time my friends, may the Force be with you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

3963 BBY: Knights of the Old Republic Volume 6: Vindication

Volume six of the KOTOR series was filled with so many plot twists there’ll be no sense in me trying to explain them all. Suffice it to say volume six was awesome as it ended with the vindication of Zayne Carrick and the exposing the Jedi Covenant as a tool of Hazan, a “Sith” manipulator and mastermind.

I put Sith in quotes for a reason, as the character of Hazan is neither Jedi nor Sith. Hazan, as you recall, was the retainer of Barrison Draay – hero of the Sith war, and father of Lucien Draay. I made a post about the relationship between these two characters earlier at 4006 BBY, which then lead me to decide that I would no longer make posts about flashbacks in the SWCP. I’m now slightly regretting that decision, as at 3996 BBY (ten years later) there is a flashback in volume six that clarifies the Barrison/Hazan relationship even more, and explains Hazan’s current setting, and how it was he became the actual figure who was threatening the Jedi order. I decided to overlook that flashback, as I thought it was too confusing. But for the purposes of this post I wish I hadn’t.

As it is, Hazan, a retainer to the Draay estate, has been the one behind the scenes pulling the strings of the Jedi covenant. It was he who used the prophecy of the five proffered by Krynda Draay to initiate his plans of control over the Jedi order. As it turns out, Hazan is neither Jedi nor Sith, and holds himself apart from the dichotomies of the Force. He claims he is the one in the prophecy that is the “last one who stands apart from all”.

It is here, with the theme of failed prophecy that I want to delve into my reactions with KOTOR volume six. This is the second time I’ve come across the theme of prophecy in Star Wars (the prophecy of the chosen one referenced in episode one being the first time), and it seems that prophecies in Star Wars are almost always incorrectly interpreted – which makes for a good story.

The ‘prophecy of the five’ proffered by Krynda Draay goes something like this: “One for the Darkness, one for the Light. One from the Darkness stands in the Light – while one from the Light stands in the Darkness. The Last one stands apart from them all”. However the Jedi covenant interpreted this, they were wrong. At the end of this story arc, is turns out the prophecy referred to Q’anilia, who is for the Darkness, and Marn, who is for the light. While Lucien, who is for the Darkness stands in the light, and Zayne, who is for the Light, stands in the Darkness. Hazan is the last one who stands apart from them all. It was Hazan’s plan to do away with Krynda and take control (with the help of numerous ancient Sith artifacts) of the Jedi shadows (the dark) AND the Jedi order (the light). And he would have two apprentices, one for the light, who would be Zayne, and one for the dark, who would be Lucien. And in this way Hazan would be master of both the lightside and darkside of the Force. A novel approach to Force mastery if you ask me and I thought that this was a fairly neat and interesting plot twist – something rarely seen in Star Wars – mastery of both the light and the dark.

I found the physical representation of Hazan interesting to a small extent, but rather played out in Star Wars story telling. Hazan, suffering from disastrous injuries accrued during the Sith war, was outfitted with a robotic arm and leg – Vader syndrome I guess you could call it. I get why this human/machine motif comes up: when one is going to master the darkside, there are going to be sacrifices – mostly spiritual and emotional sacrifices, but sometimes physical as well. King Ommin, from the Beast Wars of Onderon, is an example of the human/machine mix. As one gets closer to mastery of the darkside of the Force, they slowly lose their humanity. This happened to King Ommin, to Hazan, to Anakin, and to a small extent, Luke. I’m sure there are going to be other Sith Lords in Star Wars history who will also have robotic prosthetics.

Hazan’s robotic parts are courtesy of Dossa, a twilek smuggler from the Sith war, and a character that left me scratching my head in mild confusion. In the flashback from 3996 BBY, which gave rationale for Hazan’s evil plans of revenge, we are introduced to Dossa – a smuggler “working for the Sith” during the Sith war. This character left me puzzled because I thought the Sith war was basically Exar Kun and his horde of Massassi warriors versus the Jedi order. There were no ‘evil underworld retainers’ working for the Sith during this conflict, because the “Sith’ as it was, was basically Exar Kun himself. There were some turned Jedi working for him, but hardly more than ten. Dossa, in her conversations with Hazan implies that there is a Sith army working for Kun who are not Massassi. I was never left with this impression after my dealings with the history of the Sith war. But that’s not to say that this isn’t the case. There might have been a “Sith army” of non-Massassi warriors at Kun’s disposal. That’s the great thing about Star Wars – there are millions of stories in this universe that still need to be told, and the history and working of this universe will never be fully explored, so in that respect, maybe Dossa was working for Kun - who’s to say?

Back in my post on the short story called Labor Pains, I made a comment that Zayne’s sense of morality was inconsistent. Then I was the one who became inconsistent because in my last post I comment that one of the things I liked about Zayne was his consistent ethic of life, in that he realizes the sanctity of life in all its forms, and does his utmost to protect it. What I was critiquing was Zayne’s death threat to his Masters in volume one, and his actions in helping Marn con the gallery curators. As it turns out, Zayne’s death threat to his Master’s were Marn’s words, not Zayne’s, as Marn thought that they needed to put the Master’s on the defensive to buy themselves some time to escape, and strong words from Zayne was the means to buy that time. I’m not sure that this fully acquits Zayne of the death threats, but I think it partially does. As it is, Zayne Carrick, in my eyes, is a highly moral person who understands what it means to be a Jedi.

What shocked me at the end of this story the most was that Zayne chose not to become a Knight, and left the Jedi order completely. As I was reading I thought ‘you have a choice?’ Then I thought ‘well, of course you do’. If Zayne, or any Jedi for that matter, is not allowed to leave the Jedi order when they want, then it’s not an ‘order’ but a cult. Then I wondered how many padawans have made that choice before. I wonder how many ‘Jedi’ are out there in the universe, unbeholden to the Jedi order. With the constant threat of falling to the darkside, it must be a hard and disciplined life they lead. It’s a scary thought actually – Force users not answerable to anyone – and one I feel ripe for storytelling.

It was nice to see Lucien Draay come back to the light after falling, if only for a short while, to the allure of the darkside. There needs to be more stories of redemption in Star Wars.

For my next post I’ll be examining KOTOR volume seven. I’ll be glad when I’m finished with this series, as I am looking forward to moving on in Star Wars chronology. I actually thought that the vindication of Zayne and the gang would be dragged out to issue 50, so I’m interested in seeing where the story line goes from here as Zayne is now Marn’s hired hand, but for real this time. I don’t know how far in issues the KOTOR series is going to go, but for the purposes of this project I think I’m going to stop at issue 50 and move on. Until next time my friends, may the Force be with you.