Wednesday, March 17, 2010

15,762-15,609 BBY: The Despotica: Xim at Vontor

Michael Kogge is one of the most innovative Star Wars EU writers.
As has already been stated on this blog, the Xim material is by far the most original EU work out there. The History of Xim and the Tion Cluster, and The Despotica parts I and II gave three different looks at the writing prowess of Kogge, and provided for Star Wars fans a fresh way to experience the universe they love.

Kogge has allowed us to look at the universe we enjoy through new perspectives, whether it be through the eyes of a star cartographer, the lectures of a Ruurian historian, or through the deeply ancient history of a playwright. And now through the work of The Desptoica part III: Xim at Vontor, Kogge has given us yet another viewpoint of the Star Wars universe, that of holomaker (aka movie director).

With regards to Star Wars chronology, Xim at Vontor is an ‘in-universe’ movie script that situates itself in the years 15,762 – 15,609 BBY, placing it a full 10,000 plus years after the works of Lyechusas, and a full 8600 plus years before our next chronological source, the stories of the Jedi exiles and the foundations of the Sith Empire.

There is so much to say with regards to this piece, I can only start at the most logical place: the beginning.

Xim at Vontor begins with an academic preamble, presumably by our old friend professor Skynx. He provides for the reader some history into the evolution of Xim storytelling in the Star Wars universe. Marking its evolution from dramatic stage performances, to “holoplays”, Peshosloc, the ‘director’ of the holoplays gives to the galactic community a new way to experience “The Despot”. My favorite line in professor Skynx’s preamble is: “critics hailed Peshosloc's scripts as more than just bang-and-boom. Where others had tried and failed, Peshosloc succeeded in "blowing up" The Despotica for popular consumption because he never wrote down to his audience. Throughout dazzling detonations and sordid villainy, he wove simple tragedies of the heart, the very foundation of good space opera”. Peshosloc is to the Star Wars universe what George Lucus is to ours, and what is more, Xim at Vontor is to the Star Wars universe what “Star Wars” is to ours.

After Skynx’s preface, we get into the script of Xim at Vontor. What I love about this piece of writing is that it’s written like an actual screenplay, complete with set direction and font that emulates what an actual screenplay looks like:
TRIPLE MOONS part their celestial junction to reveal the GIANT PLANET they orbit...
TITLE: Vontor System, Si'Klaata Cluster.”

Xim at Vontor tells the story of Xim’s third battle at Vontor, his betrayal by his Queen and Generals, and his de-humanization and subsequent revenge.

Three scenes caught my attention in the telling of this story, the first being the presentation of Xim, the second being his ruthlessness on the battlefield, and the third being his Oedipal blinding at the end of the holoplay.

The opening description of Xim is very familiar to us, as it is very ‘Vader-like’: XIM THE DESPOT, hands folded behind a scarlet shimmercape, gazes out the viewport. He is calm, almost serene, as fireballs engulf the starfield”. This can’t but recall to Star Wars fans’ minds’ the classic scenes we have of Vader, standing on the deck of his Superstar Destroyer, surveying the spacescape of “his new Empire”.

As the battle progresses, Xim commands his General to “discharge the pulse canons” at the thickest part of the battle, knowing his own forces, along with his enemies, will face the brunt of his attack. His general hesitates, and then does as he is ordered. Xim makes his point with the line: “Thanios's men know there is no greater sacrifice than to give their lives to the glory of my legend”. This scene recalled for me the movie Braveheart, when Richard the Lionheart ordered his arches to fire into the battle, knowing his own troops would be hit with the arrows along with the Scottish.

Finally, the last scene I want to comment on, and the one scene that caught me by surprise, was Xim’s blinding by his own hand. After the assassination attempt by Jaminere, and Xim’s betrayers subsequent hasty exit, the Despot is left alive (unknowingly by his enemies) with a gaping hole in his head where his eye used to be. Struggling down the corridor of his ship, he is found by his faithful servant Oziaf. His head of engineering then helps his master by replacing his gaping eyehole with the eye of one of his war-droids. Xim responds with: “So this is how they see. In the infrared. Ultraviolet. And the twenty spectrums. (Optic lens rotates) I should have done this sooner”.

Xim then plucks out his own eye: “No, master, don't-- Squishes, a POP, and Xim plucks out his eye”. This is utterly gruesome, and endlessly entertaining. I was reminded by Oedipus Rex in this passage: “He rips off her brooches, the long gold pins holding her robes-and lifting them high, looking straight up into the points, he digs them down the sockets of his eyes, crying, 'You, you'll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! Too long you looked on the ones you never should have seen, blind to the ones you longed to see, to know! Blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness-blind!" Much like Oedipus, Xim is now blind, but yet, like Oedipus again, he can see far more than when he had his own eyes.

It’s unfortunate I won’t be dealing with anymore Xim material for a while. It’s not until 671 BBY before I come across the name of our favorite pirate and despot again, and before that I’ll have to complete two video games and three novels. So it is here I say goodbye to the works of Michael Kogge. In the meantime I’m still working my way though the KOTOR videogame, and for my next post I’m going to engage with some miscellaneous items I’ve missed in the Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force text. Plaristes was good enough to point out some areas I’ve missed, so I’m going to go over them and report my findings (If I’m going to complete my PhD is Star Wars-ology, I’m going to have to look at everything!). Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

25,200 BBY: The Pirate Prince

I wish I had begun the Star Wars Chronology Project with the Xim material, but unfortunately, my Star Wars chronological line was broken when this material surfaced after I had begun my historical examinations. I have to apologize in advance for the length of this post. Get comfortable, this is going to be a long one. I’m going to be dealing with three sources, and not simply one.

I’m mildly irritated I didn’t have the option of dealing with this material first, as I find it endlessly fascinating. I think the project might have taken on a bit of a different feel, had it started out with the history of a known despot and pirate, rather than the epic struggle of good vs. evil as is personified through the Jedi and the Sith. Or maybe nothing changes, and I’m just being hyperbolic.

Like I said, in my post today I’m going to deal with more than one source. I know Star Wars History, from a textual perspective, begins with The Despotica: The Pirate Prince (Part 2 of a 5 part series), but I feel it necessary to start with The History of Xim and the Tion cluster written by Jason Fry, which provides for the reader a history of Xim and the region of space he comes from (and is cited as 10 ABY from a chronological perspective), and the Despotica part 1, written by Michael Kogge, which is actually from 9 ABY in-universe. I’m then going to complete my post with examining The Despotica part 2: The Pirate Prince. I think it necessary to begin with these two sources before I get to The Despotica part 2 because they set up the proper context for understanding the Xim material, and the drama of The Pirate Prince.

Let us begin…

Jason Fry, who is the co-author of Star Wars: The Essential Atlas, wrote The History of Xim and the Tion Cluster almost from an in-universe perspective, though there is no defined narrator. There were a few things I found interesting in this article, namely, its depth of detail, the almost ‘real-world’ resemblances of Xim to characters like Alexander the Great or empires like the Roman Empire, and the fact that Xim seemed to accomplish so much, yet exhibit no Force powers.

The depth of detail in this article is what makes it feel like an authoritative source. It’s quote like these: “Xim's legions left none alive in the Timber Palace of Pasmin, set the royal barges of Eibon adrift in the heart of the Spiral, and razed the High Fane of Xo on Nuswatta” that I enjoyed, even though I do find them somewhat frustrating. I find them frustrating because I have no idea what any of this means or what the ‘Palace of Pasmin, the ‘heart of the Spiral’, or the ‘High Fane of Xo’ are. But it’s this name-dropping of events we ‘should’ know about which gives to the reader an idea of how ‘lived-in’ the Star Wars universe really is. There are epic backstroies to all of these one-off references, and back stories we can only begin to possibly imagine.

As one reader points out in the comment field of the Xim material from “I love the way this article has clear influences from Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, and modern scholarly debate and interpretation of certain historical events (the scholarship around Socrates came particularly to mind for me), but without being a direct translation of any one thing into the Star Wars universe.” Indeed, there were references in this article which I found to be particularly Greek/Alexandrian/Roman, for example: “Legend has it he himself (Xim) explored strange stars, ranging as far as distant Pelgrin, whose legendary Oracle he supposedly visited.” This reminded me of Leonides prior to the battle of Thermopyle. What is more, the reference to Xim’s subsequent capture reminded me of references made in the works of Josephus, when the Romans paraded the captured Jewish leaders through the streets of Rome after the revolution of Judea had been put down: “Xim was not just defeated but captured, and paraded in chains through Hutt Space. Scholars disagree on both the date and manner of his death; some say he died at Vontor, others that he was taken to Varl and blinded, and died a slave in Kossak's dungeons.” Even the reference to his blinding echoes the fate of Oedipus Rex.
Above all though, what I found most intriguing in the history of Xim and his meteoric rise to power, was what was not mentioned: The Force. Xim was, by most accounts, a ruthless Despot, but not a wielder of any Force power, either good or evil. In the Star Wars universe, I find this truly remarkable. Other more “powerful” beings after Xim, namely Ajunta Pall, Freedon Nadd, and Exar Kun, and others of their ilk, were only known for subduing only one planet, or a singular species, whereas Xim conquered entire swaths of known space, subjugating species after species, conquering planet after planet. In a universe where control of the Force is usually the mark of the key to political domination, it’s wildly remarkable that Xim managed to do so much without the universe’s greatest source of power.

Moving on to the second source of examination, The Despotica part 1, by Michael Kogge, was one of the most interesting pieces of Star Wars writing I have come across. It breaks the mold of ‘Star Wars writing’, in that the narrative is a university professor’s musings on the state of current Xim scholarship (circa 9-10 ABY). It’s a thick, academic, insider’s look into the history of Xim, written like an actual professor lecturing on the current state of Shakespearian scholarship.

The “in-universe” author of the article is professor Skynx, a leading authority on Xim history (and pictured above). The Despotica part 1 goes through the history of Xim the Despot and the current state of Xim scholarship. With regards to this particular piece of writing, I want to comment on the other researches Skynx references in his work, the use of footnotes in this piece, and the allegorical connection Kogge makes, almost accidently (or perhaps not) comparing the current state of Xim scholarship, with the actual state of Star Wars fiction as found in the expanded universe.

In his discussions around other Xim scholars, Skynx mentions Ebeen Q3 Baobab. This reference to: “Imperial Laureate, Ebenn Q3 Baobab” literally made me laugh out loud. This is the depth of the Star Wars universe I love, because I instantly thought, ‘Is this ‘Laureate’ a relation to Mungo Baobab, hero of the Droids cartoon from the 80’s?’ I smiled to myself as a quick check of Wookieepedia proved my suspicions correct. What is interesting is that on Wookieepedia these two characters do not have a simple footnote, but extensive history. I was shocked to find how much information there actually was on Ebenn Q3 Baobab.

Footnotes were another aspect which caught my attention in this piece. My absolute favorite part of this article was its third footnote, when professor Skynx noted: “The author of this introduction wishes to express his perpetual gratitude to another holo-legend, the audacious Han Solo, who assisted in locating Xim's fabled treasure. Much to Solo's regret, the treasure provided little in the way of pecuniary reward, but for Ximologists everywhere, its trove of kiirium ingots, mytag crystals, beamtubes, and antique automatons is priceless. (See Han Solo and the Lost Legacy: A True Story of the Scoundrel and a Scholar, by S.V. Skynx, University of Rudrig Press.)” I think Skynx’s reference to his own book about Han Solo is absolutely priceless. I swear, I’m going to take a page from Professor Michael D.C. Drout and write a book about books that don’t really exist, but do exist in the Star Wars universe; The True Story of the Scoundrel and a Scholar will be one of them.

My final point of discussion with regards to The Despotica Part 1 centers upon a particular line in the piece, in which the “author” of the article, professor Skynx, mildly laments at the volume of material produced in the Star Wars universe which inaccurately re-tells the ‘mis’-deeds of the Despot. I took this as an almost allegorical reference to the Expanded Star Wars universe you and I currently know as a whole. Skynx states: “It is this motley jumble of the amateur and the masterful--a galactic resistance to a canon of quality--that imparts The Despotica with its unrivaled originality and has propelled Xim across the cultural-species divide into the pantheon of universal monsters.” This could be re-written to explain the phenomenon of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, with only a simple reworking of words ‘It is this motley jumble of the amateur and the masterful--a galactic resistance to a canon of quality--that imparts STAR WARS with its unrivaled originality and has propelled STAR WARS across the cultural divide into the pantheon of original universes.’ Indeed, Star Wars fiction includes, I think, both the amateurish and masterful, and despite the best efforts of Lucasfilm, has about it a “galactic resistance to a canon of quality”.

Finally, my third point of discussion today revolves around The Despotica Part 2: The Pirate Prince, and the actual starting point of Star Wars history from a textual perspective.

One name came to mind after I had read this bit of Star Wars chronicle: Euripides.

In The Despotica part 2, we have a female playwright, Lyechusas, who was commissioned by Xim the Despot to create a drama about his life, the result of which is known as The Despotica, the oldest piece of history contained within the Star Wars universe.

Seriously…how cool is this?

I could literally write 10,000 words about what I found interesting in this text, but I’m going to keep my comments to three points of interest, the three being: the use of a chorus, carbonite freezing, and what makes this piece ancient Greek in nature and what reminds me of Euripides.

The Pirate Prince is literally a play about Prince’s Xim’s killing of his father and brothers, and then rise to power. It even has a chorus of war robots! Let me say that again: A CHORUS OF WAR ROBOTS!!! This is like someone taking the Star Wars universe, and then smashing it into actual ancient Greek literary history, and creating a tiled mosaic of the of the shattered bits, the end result being The Despotica Part 2: The Pirate Prince. I find this absolutely brilliant.
The play begins with the words of the war robots of Xim:

“We are the war-robots of Xim,
and of wrath we beep, the rage of mortal blood
and the devastation it wreaks.Calculate we try, to crunch the numbers,the anger, the hate, the ever-pressing need
to annihilate,one's master
one's maker
one's fatherNever does it compute.
For we of gears and generators,
plastrons and pulse cannons,we do not deactivate our directors,
nor crush our comradesno matter make or model, class or function,
flesh or metalunless our programming propels usor our circuits are countermanded,
brothers-in-steel all are we."

Kogge’s writing here is awesome . He obviously knows what he is doing, and is well versed in ancient Greek drama. I loved this opening.

Oziaf, Xim's faithful servant, awakens the prince from four years of slumber in a block of carbonite. This scene echoes the fate of Han Solo in Return of the Jedi, when Princess Leia pulls Han from the carbonite, and he suffers hibernation sickness. Oziaf says to the Prince:
“Relax, prince, relaxallow the dark to wash out the white
and your eyesight will return in time.Hibernation-sick you are and will be,chill for some days and hours;
we cannot stop the laws of time
without a modicum of punishment.”

This is similar to what Princess Leia said to Han after she awoke him from the carbonite in Jabba’s Palace. For 15 years Xim was in carbonite freeze, returning home with Pirate plunder and the head of the king of Cron, his father Xer’s greatest rival. When he arrives home he is greeted by his father and his father's new lover. Xim is taken by his father’s lover’s beauty, but is also shocked to learn that his father has sired other sons, brothers Xim immediately takes as threats to his rightful spot as sole heir to his father’s kingdom.

While his brothers are discussing how to split the riches of the kingdom, Xim murders them all. When his father enters the room, Xim turns his sword on him as well, and afterwards, takes his father's lover as his own. Xer, hoping Xim would share his kingdom with is brothers, grossly underestimated his son. After killing his brother and father, Xim says:

“For a kingdom cannot have kings, only one, and that is I, Xim,
Ruler of Worlds, Emperor of Raxus, Eibon, Brigia,
and Cron.”

Three Euripidean plays sprung to mind after I had read this: Orestes, Baccahe, and even to some extent Medea. In each of these Greek dramas, family members turn on each other. It’s seems to be a theme in Greek drama where family members regularly murder one another. You could argue that Greek drama of a Euripidean nature features highly dysfunctional families. Again, I’m impressed with Michael Kogge’s talent here, successfully mixing the Star Wars universe with ancient Greek literary history.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts concerning these bits of Star War history. I apologize for the length of this post.

For my next entry I’m going to look at The Despotica Part 3: Xim at Vontor. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.