Wednesday, June 30, 2010

3964-3963 BBY: The Secret Journal of Doctor Demagol

I’m going to call this post “Fixing George’s mistake”.

Remember back in ’99, when we all anticipated the release of the Phantom Menace? Remember how excited we were? Remember how we thought that this movie was going to be the best Star Wars movie ever?!? Remember how disappointment crept in to our subconscious when we left the theatre? Sure the lightsaber duel between Maul and Kenobi was awesome, but… Jar Jar Binks aside…

Midichlorians?!? Seriously?!? The Force is a genetic/biological entity?!? Whaaaaaaat???

In The Secret Journal of Doctor Demagol, the protagonist, our old friend “the flesh carver” from the KOTOR comic series, narrates his journey from the beginnings of flashpoint station, to being captured by Rohlan “The Runner”.

The Secret Journal of Doctor Demagol offers the reader a few interesting perspectives on the events of the KOTOR comic series. From Demagol’s complete incomprehension of Marn and his relationship to Zayne, to some interesting Mandalorian perspectives on the Jedi, to his fear of Squint/ Malak. Demagol’s most interesting thoughts, however, concern the Force, and that unexplainable equation which makes a Jedi a Jedi.

The Journal starts with ideological tension between Demagol and Cassus Fett, and how they envision the Mandalorian war machine. From Demagol’s perspective: “Fett sees the Mandalorians as a blunt weapon. I will craft them into a scalpel”. It is Demagol’s ambition to unlock the genetic secret of the Jedi, and use that biological answer to augment the Mandalorian forces, so they too may use the Force.

There are a few funny lines in this story, all dealing with Demagol’s incomprehension of Marn and Zayne’s relationship: “The boy -- they call him Zayne -- seems to be no Jedi, after all, but some kind of reject. He is moving around junk at the bidding of a Snivvian. I have always wondered what happens to Jedi who fail to reach knighthood. It appears they are made to become orderlies for smugglers. A strange practice.” Not only did I find this amusing, but also Demagol’s references to Marn as “The Lord of this vessel”, and Marn as Zayne’s “Snivvian overlord”.

In hearing about Zayne’s predicament, and how some in the Jedi order framed Zayne for murder, Demagol mused at the view most people had of the Jedi order: “For such a revered body, the Jedi order may be as fraught with intrigue as the Mandalorians are”. What I found most interesting about this line was not the bit on intrigue, but that even the Mandalorian view the Jedi order as a “revered body”.

I found JJM’s numbering of one of the entries clever. In first mentioning Malak in this story, or Squit as he is known at this time in history, Demagol’s entry is marked #6066. Drop the 0 and we have the sign of the beast. Demagol also goes on to say that: “He would not want to meet this one in a darkened alley”. Demagol tortures Squit significantly, and through this torture we see how Squit begins his transformation to the darkside: “he endures all wearing a look of sheer hate even I can recognize”. Later on in the journal, Demagol flat out says “I fear his presence”. Strong words coming from a trained Mandalorian.

All discussions of clever dialogue aside, I found that the most interesting part of this story was Demagol’s view of the Force. I think in this tale Miller is attempting to correct, what I deem, is one of the biggest mistakes ever made to Star Wars mythology, and to the continuity of the Star Wars story. Bringing this post back to my opening statements, in the Phantom Menace, Lucas gave us a scientific explanation of the Force. As the conversation between Anakin and Qui-Gon went, midi-chlorians are: “...microscopic life-forms that reside within the cells of all living things and communicate with the Force”. With this explanation, The Force moved from an unexplainable, mysterious thing, so something which could be documented, categorized, numbered, and labeled. The Force was now the stuff of laboratory experimentation. To continue in the vein of my last few posts, it went from the realm of the mysterious sacred, to the realm of the secular scientific.

With this small tale, I think that Miller is attempting to rescue the Force for us.

Demagol makes the transition from believing the Force is something genetic, something which can be controlled by science, to almost believing that the Force is something to be awed by: “Pulsipher rejects my conclusions that "Force powers" are inborn genetic traits -- natural mutations, that any being can be modified to have. What does he think gives Jedi their powers? Why, magic, of course! Mystic talismans and trinkets, that's what he believes!” Indeed, it is also what I myself want to believe. By the end of the tale, however, Demagol’s tune has begun to change: “ I am half-prepared to believe this “Force” is an actual external phenomenon”.

This ‘half-thought’ is then again echoed by Rohlan at the end of the tale: “He was wrong about Jedi” says the Mandalorian of Demagol. Demagol was indeed wrong about the Jedi and the Force, as I believe Lucas was wrong about the Jedi and the Force as well. Even though Lucas created “the Force” of this world, I think he has lost touch with what it represents. He no longer follows ‘the will of the Force’. But who am I to question Lucas’ Star Wars, and who is Miller to correct Lucas’ mythology? The people have been telling the Emperor he has no clothes on for some time now.

Regardless, thank you for trying to save the Force JJM. I appreciate your effort.

For my next post I’ll be moving on to a very special source of Star Wars history, and a genre not yet covered in the chronology project: The timelines offered by the developers of The Old Republic MMO. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

4975 BBY: Lost Tribe of the Sith: Savior

Believe it or not, I’m glad JJM wrote a fourth installment to his Lost Tribe of the Sith series. I ended the third volume with the sentiment that I was glad to be done with his work. But now at the end of the fourth volume I’m left wanting more. His prose was easier to read this time around as well.
The fourth installment of the Lost Tribe of the Sith series finds Yaru Korsin, the Grand Lord of the Sith on Kesh, at the centre of assassination plots and schemes of spite.

In true Sith fashion, power struggles and coups have come to fruition as Commander Korsin celebrates his people’s 25th anniversary of being on Kesh. The Sith, under the leadership of Korsin, have decided to leave the top of the mountain, and live among the Keshiri in their villages.

After the move down the mountain, Seelah, Korsin’s wife, unraveled her plans for control, which consisted of placing her own son, Jariad (both nephew and step-son to Yaru) as Grand Lord. Her plans did not come about however, as Yaru Korsin had his own daughter secretly trained and poised to challenge her half brother and mother for leadership.

The story ends with Yaru Korsin and his faithful servant Gloyd killed in the coup, Seelah crippled, Jariad dead, and Nida Korsin the new leader of the Sith on Kesh. The way this all came about was intriguing and fast paced, and as I said earlier, I really enjoyed the ending of this series (if it has indeed ended).

The most interesting storyline in this novella however, was the Keshiri plot headed by Adari Vaal. Instead of collecting the Keshiri to challenge the 600 Sith on Kesh in some sort of civil war, she decided to steal the Sith’s only mode of transportation, the uvak flyers, and take the creatures along with her people to a distant and remote part of the planet where I assume they intend to rebuild and live free of Sith rule. Nida Korsin was not aware to the extent of the Keshiri plans, but as she puts it, the Keshiri: “…plunged themselves into a pit of lava. In spite – or fear. It doesn’t matter” (LTOTS 30). Even though Miller makes it clear that Nida does not really know where the Keshiri have gone, she is dead on with their motivation. I found this plot line a-typical, and really enjoyed it. I thought for sure there would be some sort of reckoning of the Keshiri and the Sith, but Adari Vaal’s move was one of spite. I enjoyed where Miller brought this story. I enjoyed how Miller ended it.

In the last volume of the Lost Tribe of the Sith series, I was attempting to come to terms with the idea of a “Sith Empire”, or as I had put it an “Empire of pure evil”. I was attempting to understand with how an Empire of evil can get anything done, because at some point co-operation has to occur. The idea simply did not make any sense to me.

After going through the KOTOR video game, and reading the first four chapters of Crosscurrent, and coming across some interesting lines in LTOTS 4, the idea of a Sith Empire, or Sith culture began to make a little more sense to me. The way I now understand the Sith empire, is through the view-point of a capitalist/corporate/imperialist society. The Sith Empire and how I now understand it, works very much like our own secular humanist culture, just ramped-up and caricatured. A caricature is never accurate, but contains kernels of truth. One simply needs to pull a headline from a newspaper to see what I mean: power, greed, and fear are the underpinnings of our daily lives. Examples such as the Enron debacle, the Bernie Madoff affair, the BP oil spill, the disrespect for the common worker, the unfair treatment of educated immigrants, etcetera. This is all Sith: control of power by the few, subjugation of the many by the wealthy, and the exaltation of the self. (For the record this is not what I actually believe of Western culture, I believe there is more to Western culture than just this, but I can’t fully argue against this viewpoint if someone else were to understand and believe that this is, in truth, what consumerist North America culture really is).

What I found interesting about Savior, was that Yaru Korsin had to work against the fundamental philosophies of Sith culture in order to survive: “ So many people, so many ambitions to manage. It was why Korsin had allowed them to think that he had indeed activated the emergency beacon once, before it failed. The prospect of departure had the power to unite; so did the specter of the arrival of a punishing superior power” (LTOTS 2). If Krosin did not lie to his people, Sith power struggles and raging ambition would tear the society apart. He had to work against what his society stood for, in order to keep it standing.

I think I’m on to something with my Sith vs. Jedi, secular vs. sacred comparison. In order for secular humanism to really work, it has to release the grasp the sacred world holds over its people. One way to do this is to call into question the idea of the divine, or to make foolish the belief in anything beyond the self. This is what Yaru Korsin does with the Keshiri, yet with an ironic twist. He uses the sacred as a tool of control: “Everywhere he’d look in this palace, the Keshiri had plastered something depicting his divinity. He chuckled to himself. We’ve really done a sales job” (LTOTS 11). The secular world needs to make belief in divinity a “sales job” in order for it to eventually be called into question.

Sith culture in this story also works as an imperialist society: “Adari brought people claiming to be the Skyborn into their midst to reshape the Keshiri standards” (LTOTS pg 13). Like the British brining “civilization” to India, circa the 1800’s, The Sith are bringing a “higher standard” of living to the Keshiri.

In my grade 12 Religion class, I show my students a documentary called Affluenza, which begins our discussions on how media affects self image and self esteem. Needless to say we quickly figure out that the basic message behind a lot of marketing is “you suck, so buy our product and you won’t suck anymore”. This is especially important for girls, as they are constantly bombarded with unrealistic expectations of femininity. Keeping people dissatisfied with their current position, and hungering for more is also what I deem as Sith in nature, and the constant pursuit of perfection, of a “higher standard”, is what keeps Sith culture competitive, cutthroat, and apathetic to dignity.

Seelah Korsin, in her pursuit of Sith perfection, kept among the humans on Kesh this hunger and desire for a perfect body image: “But the Sith were already more pleasing to look at. She’d instilled in the younglings a respect for their bodies, a lust for physical perfection.” (pg 16). I think what makes Sith the embodiment of evil, is that it twists virtue into vice. Seelah installed “respect for their bodies” which is the virtue, but twisted the virtue into the vice of vanity by making sure the younglings then “lusted for physical perfection”.

All-in-all I enjoyed the fourth installment of the Lost Tribe of the Sith, and I’m looking forward to JJM’s new project Knight Errant. Though I’m not sure what I’m going to do to fit it into the chronology project. I suspect, and partially hope, that I’ll be beyond that era in Star Wars history when Knight Errant will be eventually released, so I may have to simply make posts here and there throughout the project to include it, or perhaps ignore it all-together, wait for it to wrap up completely, then tackle it as a comprehensive whole. I don’t know. Much remains to be seen. Though, as a Star Wars fan, and author of a Star Wars Chronology Project, this is a good problem to have. It shows just how deep this world really is, and how abundant in story the world of Star Wars has to offer.

I’m going to continue with my back-logging of Star Wars history with another piece by JJM: The Secret Journal of Doctor Demagol. Once I’m done with that I’ll be looking at one of the timelines offered by, which discusses some of the details of Star Wars history after the KOTOR comic, and before the KOTOR video game. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

5000-4999 BBY: Crosscurrent

I make this post with great hesitation.

Besides the fact that I’m back-posting on Star Wars history, and my own blog’s chronological unity has been broken again, I’m hesitant because posting on this novel in its proper timelines requires me to break the unity of the novel’s plot, which is something that does not still well with me. I have yet to decide what takes priority in the SWCP: stories as a whole, or the chronological line they follow in Star Wars history.

I ran into this problem before with the KOTOR comic series, where in issue 33, there were several flashbacks to the Barrison/Hazzan relationship. Back then, I had made the decision that I didn’t want to deal with flashbacks, but rather I’d prefer to deal with a source text as a whole, and engage with any flashbacks the medium presented in the context of its narrative. Then I posted that I regretted that decision when I had finally reached volume 6 of the KOTOR series. So now I am unsure as to what to do when a source text is broken up into several timeframes.

Looking ahead in the project, to books like Legacy of the Jedi, The Life and Legend of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader, each are scatted all over the Star Wars timeline, and I’m going to have to make the call: Do I deal with each chapter and page as Joe Bongiorno has properly delineated as chronologically correct? Or do I follow the spirit of what this blog is all about, which is a PhD in Star Wars-ology, and simply read a book as a whole when it enters Star Wars history?

By virtue of this post, I guess I have decided to follow Star Wars history at the expense of a novel’s unity of plot, which, like I’ve said, does not sit well with me. I could possibly be dealing with the same novel four or five times in this project and I’m bothered by this notion. I think I’d rather make a post about Crosscurrent as a whole in what is its proper chronological context at 41.5 ABY, yet here I am, making a post about Crosscurrent’s first four chapters.

At the end of the day, I understand that it does not have to be one way or the other. This is, after all, my blog and I can do with it what I want. So, with all that being said, I make my post today with the disclaimer ‘I don’t like braking up the unity of a text, but for the most part, this is something that I’m going to be doing – but not always’.

Moving on, Crosscurrent, by Paul S. Kemp, begins its story in 5000 BBY, and situates itself at the heart of the Great Hyperspace War. In this narrative we are privy to the events which set in motion the dramatic dealings of the Lost Tribe of the Sith series. In its first four chapters, background is give to the lines in JJM’s story: “Fully loaded with Lignan crystals, Harbinger and Omen had readied to leave Phaegon III for the front when a Jedi starfighter tested the mining fleet’s defenses.” (LTOTS 1, PG 3).

In Crosscurrent we learn why the Harbinger failed, why it careened into the Omen, who was piloting that “Jedi starfighter” and why, and what fate awaited the crew of the Sith ships. We also learn about the fallen Jedi Saes, who Commander Korsin regarded while his own ship was plummeting to the planet of Kesh.

Again, I wish I had dealt with this source in its chronological order, because it made much sense of the first book of JJM’s Lost Tribe of the Sith series. Lines like: “Saes, captain of the Harbinger, was a fallen Jedi: an unknown quantity. You couldn’t trust someone the Jedi couldn’t trust, and they would trust just about anyone”. I remember reading that line and being mildly irritated by it because the way it was written almost felt like as a reader I was stupid for not knowing what JJM was referencing. Well, now I do.

I have three points I’d like to discuss in today’s post: the first being Sith philosophy, the second being the nature of the Force as presented in Crosscurrent, and the third being the element of the “retcon”, and how the retcon’s presented in this work (as well as in JJM’s material) has affected Star Wars history.

Firstly, a line that jumped out at me in this book was: “There was no absolute right or wrong” (pg 3), which I think speaks heavily to Sith philosophy. This is a thought which Saes, the fallen Jedi, thinks as he destroys an entire moon to retrieve Lignan crystals for the Sith war effort. I find that this thought is the truth which most people cling to in a secular humanist society, and indeed, is very Sith in nature. With this thought, the ends, whatever they may be, do indeed justify the means. Following this line of thinking through then, I believe that this premise brings about some very interesting questions and comparisons of Sith teaching when juxtaposed to present capitalist/corporate society. Indeed, I think one may be able to successfully argue that capitalism, at its very core, is an individual person’s wants, desires, and dreams, over the common good of society. If there is no “absolute” truth, if there is no “absolute” right or wrong, then each individual is “free” to interpret the world around them for themselves, and “free” to have their environment (whatever it may be. I don’t just mean environment as in ‘nature’) adapt to them, rather than the other way around. I enjoyed this line of the text, because I feel it properly sums up the dichotomy of the Sith and the Jedi: the secular vs. the sacred.

Secondly, I want to question one of Kemp’s lines. Narrating through the eyes of Relin, Saes’ former Jedi master, Kemp writes: “He (Relin) saw in that beauty the Force made manifest, a physical representation of the otherwise invisible power that served as the scaffolding of the universe. But the scaffolding was under threat. Sadow and the Sith would corrupt it” (pg 9). It’s the last line I want to focus on and nit-pick a little bit. How can Sadow, who draws his power from ‘the dark side of the Force’, then, through his use of it, corrupt that power? How does the Force come under threat through the use of the darkside? To reconcile what Kemp wrote, I guess one could argue that the Force is neither light nor darkness, and Sadow’s intent was to make the Force itself evil, so that any future Force wielder would naturally become Sith when being trained to call upon that well of power. But I’m not really sure I agree with this idea, or what Kemp meant by this. If my reckonings are correct how does Sadow, or any other darkside user “corrupt” the Force itself? It makes the Force, in my eyes, rather weak and itself a separate entity from everything else, and not something which “flows through all living things” to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m just not entirely sure what Kemp meant here. And if he means what I think he means, then that weakens what the Force is, as I understand it.

The last point of discussion I want to focus on with regards to Crosscurrent, is the idea of the “retcon”. Here, we have yet another retcon of Star Wars history, and a move by Star Wars writers to expand that time in history known as the Great Hyperspace war. I understand why writers would want to expand this section of history: to make the “Great Hyperspace War”, seem much ‘greater’ than what we have to read about. In truth, I believe that writers like Kemp and Miller have been successful with that, but adding Jedi to the mix (as both have done in their stories) voids the idea that Jedi and Sith did not have any contact prior to the attack on Kirrek and Coruscant (aka The Great Hyperspace War). I believe that the book Jedi vs. Sith, The Essential Guide to the Force, makes this point clear somewhere in its pages. I rather liked this idea. That the Sith just basically fell out of the sky on top of the Republic and caught the Jedi order unawares.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Crosscurrent, and I’m looking forward to engaging with it again down the line. I find Kemps style easy to read and enjoyable. I enjoyed the relationship between Relin and his padawan Drev, and how Drev liked to find the humor in almost anything. I little like myself I felt.

After two months of hiatus I’m back. I’m literally on the last part of the KOTOR video game. I have the game saved right before I go in to challenge Malak, and hopefully I’ll be finishing it tonight. But expect an increase in posts over the next few weeks.

For my next post I’ll be looking at JJM’s fourth installment of the Lost Tribe of the Sith series. Untill then my friends, may the Force be with you.