Wednesday, September 29, 2010

980 BBY: Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil

Drew Karpyshyn gets it.

I’ll explain what I mean by this towards the end of the post; suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the Bane trilogy and what Karpyshyn added to the Star Wars mythos.

Dynasty of Evil was the shortest of the three novels, and aptly named as by the end of the book, Darth Bane – Dark Lord of the Sith, had indeed established a dynasty of evil.

There are only three areas from this novel I want to discuss today, namely, the mention of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, cloning, and Darth Andeddu.

In Dynasty of Evil we meet Serra, Caleb the healer’s daughter, now all grown up and out for revenge for the murder of her husband. Because a Jedi was killed on her home planet, and she being the princess of Doan, it was necessary for her to travel to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to explain to the Council that her family, the royalty of Doan, had nothing to do with the Jedi’s death. Upon entering the airspace of Coruscant, we see the Jedi Temple through the eyes of Serra: “…the Temple dominated the skyline. Serra recalled that it had been built on top of a mountain. Not on a mountain…but actually over the mountain – the stepped pyramid covered the entire surface, swallowing the mountain so completely that it was no longer visible” (59). This description of the Jedi Temple brought me back to the TOR comic Threat of Peace, and the TOR game trailer Deceived, where we were witness to the annihilation of the Jedi’s sacred space in 3653BBY.

A couple of thoughts came to mind as I was reading the description of the Jedi Temple. Firstly, is this the same temple that was reconstructed after the attack of the Sith in 3653 BBY? I briefly went over my notes, and as far as I can remember the Jedi Temple, in the history of Star Wars up until this point, had never been destroyed. The Order itself had been nearly wiped out by the Sith triumvirate, but as far as I can remember the structure of the Temple itself has always remained intact (I think this is correct, and I can’t seem to remember reading anything about the Temple being destroyed prior to this date).

Moreover, I began to wonder when the Jedi Temple was eventually rebuilt after the Sith attack. Did the Jedi expand the Temple from its original design, or did they simply look to reconstruct what was lost? Was the Jedi Temple always built over a mountain? Was there a time in Star Wars history, maybe circa 3000BBY to 980BBY (a little over 2000 years of history) where the Temple was brought down a second time? Is the Temple we see in The Phantom Menace the same Temple described in the pages of Dynasty of Evil? All interesting and thought provoking questions I think.

All of this talk of Temple destruction brought a whole host of other thoughts and questions to mind, and reminded me of the destruction of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70CE. It was this thought which really precipitated all my other inquires. Prior to 70CE, the Jews (lead by King Herod) rebuilt the first Temple of Solomon after its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians centuries prior. This ushered in the age of Jewish history known as Second Temple Judaism. What I find interesting here is how the Jewish people of the past measured time – they did so by counting the reigns of Kings and Judges and the beginnings of Abraham and Moses, but also when their sacred structures were built and then subsequently destroyed. Did the Jedi do this as well? (There’s a great essay topic: Jews and Jedi – the effect of Temple destruction on the psyches of a people).

As a matter of fact, how do inhabitants of the Star Wars universe measure time? I remember reading an in-universe story which explained the use of BBY and ABY, but such an explanation only makes sense regarding events which occurred after the battle of Yavin. And I can see how characters who are chronologically set after the battle of Yavin (Jacen Solo for example) could make reference to events prior to the battle of Yavin using the BBY marker. But how do characters living in the universe before the battle of Yavin measure time? It’s certainly not with the denotation “BBY”. What year did Darth Bane think he was born? How did he himself know he was 45 years old? According to what measurement of time did he use? I think this absence of measuring time from an in-universe perspective prior to the marker of BBY is an element lacking in Star Wars literature.

Moreover, now that I’ve gone through the beginnings of Star Wars history at length, I think the time markers BBY and ABY are inadequate. The battle of Yavin was not the most dramatic event in the Star Wars universe when one accounts for the entirety of Star Wars history (granted I myself have yet to get through that entirety).

We in our world mark time from the birth of Christ (whether we recognize his religious significance or not – changing the AD/BC denotations to CE/BCE really doesn’t hide the fact that our Gregorian calendar measures time from the birth of a significant individual – a birthdate incorrectly applied mind you) Yet Star Wars, a universe that has a habit of emulating our own, does not have the birth of a significant individual to turn to, so in lieu of that, we use the battle of Yavin to mark time. But I think there is a significant event we can turn to to measure time with without using the BBY and ABY denotations – the birth of the Republic.

In 25,000 BBY the Galactic Republic was founded. This could be year zero. This was a significant event that most sentient beings in the universe can turn to to establish common ground. Events prior to the founding of the Republic can be referred to as BGR (Before the Galactic Republic). According to this measurement of time, the first human colonists of Alderaan landed on that planet in 2,500BGR. Events after the founding of the Republic can be marked with AGR (After the Galactic Republic). Therefore, according to this measurement the events of Darth Bane would have taken place in 24,000AGR, and the battle of Yavin would have taken place in 25,000AGR. I think this measurement of time gives a more significant understanding of the age and depth of the Star Wars universe.

All of this nonsense, of course, is the ravings of a mad man who has put entirely too much time and thought into his obsession with Star Wars. Take everything I write with a grain of salt.

Wasn’t I supposed to be discussing the novel Dynasty of Evil?

Ok, back to my post. The description of the Jedi Temple on page 59 started all this, and ultimately I think a discussion of the Temple’s history was interesting, and that there is a better way to measure time in Star Wars.

Now on to my next point: the mention of cloning.

Because Darth Bane managed to master the art of essence transfer, he toyed with the idea of creating a clone body to house his essence, or soul, to create a Sith dynasty and live forever: “The best candidate would be an engineered clone body, an empty shell with no thoughts or identity of its own. But creating a suitable clone could take years…” (162). I’m vaguely familiar with the history of Star Wars after the battle of Yavin, and I know Palpatine also cloned his body in order to achieve eternal life, but I don’t think Palpatine had the same understanding of the darksdie Bane had, as I think Palpatine’s clones did not possess the collective knowledge he had managed to collect over time. But I don’t know that for certain – I’m fairly unfamiliar with that material. Maybe Karpyshyn was making the connection between Bane and Palpatine. I look forward to engaging with that future material though, and hopefully connecting a lot of dots between two Dark Lords of the Sith.

Cloning is a prime example of the stagnancy of technology in the Star Wars universe. I think cloning was first mentioned all the way back at 3963BBY, where it came to light that Jarael was a clone of Arca Jeth, the Jedi Master of Cay and Ulic Qel-Droma. I’ve come to accept that the Star Wars universe is a universe that reached the peak of its technology around 4000BBY. Nothing drastically changes after this date, not advances in weaponry, medicine, or science. There may be some improvements here or there, or bigger ships, but other than the size of the technology the technology itself stays basically the same.

My final point of discussion in today’s post centers upon the character of Darth Andeddu and his holocron. Darth Andeddu fills in some gaps, I believe, with regards to the Sith emperor from the Old Republic era and his secret of longevity. The end of the Blood of the Empire series came out a few weeks ago, and when I’m finished with Dynasty of Evil, I’ll return to that unfinished source. But before I make my final comments on that particular piece, there were certain events which took place in that comic that have repercussions, I believe, in Dynasty of Evil. It seems that the Sith emperor’s apprentice was running from him, to prevent herself from becoming one of his “children”; basically from losing her own soul to become possessed by the emperor. This makes sense, as Andeddu predates the Sith emperor (whose earliest appearance in Star Wars chronology thus far dates back to 3961) and from what I’ve read from wookieepedia, Andeddu was an apprentice of Karness Murr from circa 7000BBY. Therefore, it stands to reason that if the Sith emperor came after Darth Andeddu, that the emperor may have learned the technique of essence transfer from Andeddu himself. With the ability of essence transfer, the Sith emperor would be able to take his time with his invasion of the Republic. It could also be that the Sith emperor is an ancient Dark Lord of the Sith who dates back to before the 100 year darkness, but his backstory still remains to be seen.

So, what do I mean by my opening statement that ‘Karpyshyn gets it’?

I’m a fairly simple guy, and I like it when the end of the story I’ve read has a nice conclusion where everything is wrapped up. I don’t like to think too much (despite what my long winded posts may indicate) when it comes to fantasy and science fiction literature. I want to know simply who won: the good guys or the bad guys. Give it to me straight. Treat me like an uneducated buffoon. But at the end of Dynasty of Evil Karpyshyn got clever, which required me to think, which irritated me. I had to pause and contemplate the notion of whether or not the essence transfer worked between Bane and Zannah. I then had to re-read the text and draw conclusions of my own. Ugh!

Ultimately, I think the essence transfer worked for three reasons. Firstly, after the essence transfer ritual and the destruction of Bane’s body, we are told that Zannah: “…moved awkwardly and couldn’t seem to stand up straight, as if she was unfamiliar with how her own limbs and muscles worked” (293). Karpyshyn then gives us an out by stating, ‘but this could have been because of the battle’. At this point I’m not quite ready to buy that. Bane was too powerful, too smart, and had risked too much at this point to fail. Zannah had no idea what sort of attack was coming, and in this final spiritual confrontation between master and apprentice, Bane was too well prepared for what was about to happen. Like a newborn horse finding its feet, Bane was getting his balance after his rebirth in his new body. Secondly, After Zannah rose from the ground, Darth Cognus asked of Zannah “Lord Bane?” (293) Why would Cognus feel the need to ask this? She knew nothing of the essence transfer ritual, and had no idea that possessing an individual through the Force was even an option. I think she asked this question because her instincts and the Force had told her what happened: that Bane now possessed Zannah – but she has nothing rational or concrete to support her instinct. She knew it was an insane question, yet she still couldn’t deny the instinct that something had changed. All she has to go on is what Zannah next told her – that Bane is dead and she is her new master. She could only take this statement at face value. What is more, Bane has every incentive to lie to his student about what happened at this point. Why reveal the essence transfer ritual when he (in the form of Zannah) may need Cognus’ body at some point in the future? Holding on to the essence transfer secret is in a Dark Lord’s best interest. Thirdly, right before the epilogue, we are told that: “[Cognus] couldn’t help but notice that, as she was speaking, Zannah was continually clenching and unclenching the fingers of her left hand” (294). I’m pretty certain at this point Karpyshyn is telling us the ritual worked, since this was one of Bane’s physical traits. I can’t think of any reasonable reason to include this piece of text only to then try and convince the reader that the ritual didn’t work.
With all that being said however, Karpyshyn did enough to keep the conclusion a little open-ended, and that is why he gets it. In writing a Star Wars story the author does not look to conclude their stories with a wrapped up ending – they want to keep endings a little mysterious. Wrapped up endings is not what Star Wars is about. Inevitably some other writer at some point in the future is going to pick up another Star Wars author’s story and that author’s characters, and begin taking them in directions that the original author never dreamed of. This is exactly what has happened with the Expanded Universe. Other storytellers came along and expanded upon Lucas’ vision. And likewise, other storytellers are going to pick up the legacy of Darth Bane and Zannah, and write the story of the Master/Apprentice relationship between Zannah and Cognus.

Maybe Zannah is Zannah, but I don’t think so. I think Bane was successful and is looking to further develop his revenge plot against the Jedi.

But that’s just one man’s opinion.
For my next post I’m going to fill in the gaps of the Blood of the Empire comic, and then engage with the Jedi vs. Sith Force guide, and mine all references to Bane and Darth Andeddu. In the meantime though, I’m going to take Plaristes’ advice and take a look at the short story Bane of the Sith and the comic All for You; both sources are considered non-canonical. I’m not going to deal with them in their own post however. I’m just going to reply to Plaristes question in the comment field on my post on Rule of Two. So, if at all possible, Plaristes, would you be able to set me up at the end of a source with a non-canonical source following with a question like “so are you going to read…’? That way I can go, ‘Why yes…and here are my thoughts on that…’ Let me know if you don't mind being my straight-man.

Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, September 20, 2010

1000 BBY - 990 BBY: Darth Bane: Rule of Two

Even though I love my job, and truly believe teaching is my calling, I wish I could somehow make the Star Wars Chronology Project my full time job. The more I get engrossed in the material, the more I wish I could just be at home surrounded by peace and quiet, silently reading the novels, short stories, or playing the video games and recording my thoughts and reactions. I’m having entirely too much fun with this blog.

Things are going to be heating up at work with assignments coming in and tests to be given out, so all my spare time will go to marking – the necessary yet darkside of teaching. I’m already lamenting the time I can’t spend on the project in the coming months.

But in the here and now, I have a few reactions to the second book of Karpyshyn’s Bane trilogy: Rule of Two.

Though I enjoyed this book more than the first installment, I have only a few small things to comment on, namely; Farfalla’s flagship (again!), the destruction of Darovit’s hand, the role and history of the Chancellor of the Republic, the planet of Tython, and the final lightsaber duel.

In Path of Destruction I commented on how Karpyshyn downplayed the fantastical nature of the comic Jedi vs. Sith, even going so far as to exclude a description of Jedi Master Valenthyne Farfalla’s flagship the Farwind. I guess he had a change of heart, because in the opening pages of the novel, he defined the look of Jedi flagship for his readers unfamiliar with the comic: “Fashioned so that her exterior resembled an ancient sailing barge, the vessel had an archaic elegance, a grandeur that some felt was a sign of vanity unbecoming in a Jedi” (pg. 10). Even though this was the only description of the ship in the book, it still gave readers something to imagine. What I find most remarkable though, is Karpyshyn’s reluctance to fully describe the physical appearance of Valenthyne’s lower half. There is never any mention of his satyr legs. The most we get is that Valenthyne “nimbly” jumped over someone or something.

I wonder why this is so? Does Karpyshyn himself not agree with the way the story was artistically rendered in the original comic? Does he also feel that Ramon F Bachs interpretation of events is too close to the fantasy genre? I think these are questions I’d like to ask him if I ever got the chance.

Moving on, I was surprised at how the events surrounding the destruction of Darovit’s hand played out in the text, as I completely mis-read the turn of events in the comic. I had originally thought it was Bane who blew up Darovit’s hand, not in any act of mercy, but because it was he who felt his death would serve no purpose. Looking back, I can now see where my interpretation went awry. I don’t know why I thought it was Bane who blew up Darovit’s hand, as there is a caption clearly showing Zannah concentrating, then Darovit’s hand blowing up. What I did like about this scene though, was Bane’s patience with Zannah. He knew she acted out of mercy, and in turn showed some mercy himself, as he realized compassion would be something he would have to instruct out of his student in the future. He couldn’t expect her to be a Dark Lord of the Sith right away.

This leads me to another great scene I enjoyed: the flashback when Bane teaches Zannah about patience and using living things like tools – and to never become attached. I also felt a twang of sadness when Bane broke the neck of the neek.

I wonder what Master Thon would think of a Dark Lord of the Sith taking up residence where he buried the powers of the darkside from that planet. It just goes to show you how fully and completely Master Thon decimated those powers, as the only thing they are capable of is perverting the wildlife. What is more, Darth Bane – Dark Lord of the Sith – was unable to pull on those powers from the lake.

Furthering my reactions to Rule of Two, I found the character of Supreme Chancellor Tarsus Valorum interesting, but what I found more interesting was some of the history revealed around the role of Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. In musing about the Chancellor, Johun wondered about how he came to be in that position of power: “It was these traits, along with his exemplary record of public service, that had led to Valorum being appointed the first non-Jedi Chancellor in over four centuries” (pg. 94). I found that bit of information mildly shocking, because from all I know of the Star Wars universe, this would seem to me a conflict of interest for the people of the Republic and a conflict of philosophy for the Jedi. Would there not be some in the Jedi order, who over the four centuries mentioned, crave the position of power offered by the role of Supreme Chancellor? In our own universe, more than a few popes themselves could not stop from abusing their power as leader of the empire (I know papal experts could argue that popes were never the leaders of the empire, but just ask Emperor Frederick II who was in charge of the empire when Pope Gregory IX excommunicated him who he thought was in charge).

I explored this bit of history a little on wookieepedia, the only source I could really turn to to investigate the linage of Supreme Chancellors, and found that during the time frame mentioned by Karpyshyn, there is no history of who these Jedi Chancellors were. There was, however, one mention of a Jedi Chancellor from 4000 BBY to 3997 BBY, Sidrona Diath, Dace Diath’s father. Dace, if your recall, was part of the Jedi strike team from Ossus that assisted Cay Qel-Droma, Nomi Sunrider, and Tott Doneeta and company on their assault of Exar Kun and the forces of the Krath. It is mentioned that Dace’s father was Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, but that tidbit of information slipped pasted me when I was investigating that timeframe. I still find it remarkable that the Jedi were able to hold this position of authority.

The way Karpyshyn presented this information was interesting as well, because Johun thought it remarkable that a Jedi was not appointed to the Chancellorship, as most people thought it was going to be Farfalla who was going to be elected. So from what we know, sometime between the years 1400 BBY and 1000 BBY, there was a string of Jedi Supreme Chancellors.

In my opinion, that era of history is absolutely ripe for storytelling. Right there we have the makings of an epic hero in the most traditional sense. I think I’ll begin to ponder this area of Star Wars history myself.

Jedi Chancellors aside, I still haven’t talked about the most interesting Supreme Chancellor in Star Wars history (to date anyway), Blotus the Hutt, from 9000 BBY. Supreme Chancellor for over 275 years, Blotus is regarded by most historians to be one of the greatest to hold this office. A Hutt! Can you believe it?!? Dan Wallace, Steve Sansweet, Pablo Hidalgo, and Jason Fry, through a compilation of texts these writers have collaborated on, were having entirely too much fun creating and adding to the history of Supreme Chancellors in the Star Wars universe. Here’s a topic of historical expansion for any one of these writers. It could follow a similar chronology or written in the same style one would follow presidential history, the history of any monarchy, or papal history. I can see it now. Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Supreme Chancellors of the Republic.

In addition to an interesting history of Supreme Chancellors, Karpyshyn did a really good job with the final battle sequence between Bane, Zannah, Johun, Farfalla, Worror, Lsu, and Xaj. It was well described, and I found I could follow the action quite easily. It was an epic fight, the most interesting aspect being the use of Worror’s battle meditation. How powerful was that Jedi Master? He nearly singlehandedly killed Bane.
Though Worror did not attempt to use the Force power Wall of Light on Bane, I wonder why more Jedi do not use the power of Wall of Light to cut their opponents off from the Force? It’s made out to be some morally incorrect thing to do on the part of a lightside Jedi, but I wholly disagree with this sentiment. If the Jedi truly believe that what they are doing is for the greater good, I would argue that they are under a moral imperative to cut the Force from those who abuse their power.

My final point of discussion centers upon the world of Tython. In Rule of Two, it is presented as a desolate world, one where the darkside of the Force has taken up residence. Many questions arise with this presentation of Tython. What happened to it? In The Old Republic, Tython was the world the Jedi fled to – their ancestral home world – where they reconnected with the Force, built new temples, and meditated. Somewhere in the 2000 plus year history of this planet, things went terribly wrong. Not only does it seem like the Jedi have been pushed from this sacred space, but the darkside of the Force, in the form of a former Dark Lord of the Sith, Belia Darzu, has taken control. From the material presented in the Old Republic sources, Tython was once a lush and verdant planet. Unfortunately it seems like a grey and dead place now. I’m sure somewhere down the line an explanation will be provided as to what happened to the once Jedi stronghold.

I’ll complete my reactions today with a question to you, my reader. What did you think of Rule of Two? Please, share your own insights and reactions here.

For my next post I’ll engage with the third installment of the Bane trilogy – Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1000 BBY: Jedi vs. Sith

I thoroughly enjoyed Jedi vs. Sith.

I thought I’d put that out there at the start, since most of the comments, reviews, and responses to this comic that I have read have been mostly negative. With that being said, the comments I’ve mostly encountered regarding this text have come from the www.swtor forums – which is only a small part of the whole conversation about Star Wars occurring online, and may not be indicative of the overall opinion of this comic to most fans. I thought this comic was much better than Threat of Peace, if that gives you an indication of where my tastes lie.

For all the reasons most people did not enjoy this comic, I found that I did. The most complained about aspect of this comic seems to be its fantastical nature – a trait I thought brought a lot to the Star Wars realm, and an aspect of the comic I thoroughly enjoyed. I also appreciated the way the Jedi were presented, the armor of Lord Hoth, and the character of Valenthyne Farfalla and his awesome ship the Fairwind.

I think it is most people’s understanding that Star Wars is science fiction (and I think hardcore fans know this to be untrue), and since Star Wars seems to fall into this category of “science fiction” people expect it to adhere to certain conventions – and I get that. Satyrs and Fauns are for Lord of the Rings, The Sword of Shannara, or Dungeons and Dragons and most defiantly not for a galaxy far far away. But Star Wars does not completely fit the mold of science fiction, and as a matter of fact bucks this label. Indeed, Star Wars is closer to Lord of the Rings than it is to something like Bladerunner or Star Trek. Its American space opera, more closely related to fantasy that anything else. So encountering a Jedi Satyr and a knighted Faun is par the course for this world, as Star Wars has always blurred the lines between genres.

What I loved about Jedi vs. Sith was the Lord of the Rings type feel it had to it. I liked how the leaders of the Army of Light referred to each other as “Lord”, and I thought the chivalry they attempted to live up to added something to this realm. The Knights wore armour reminiscent of Christian Crusaders – for they were making a pilgrimage to destroy the darkness of the world. Like the elves marching on Mordor, Hoth’s Army of Light marched on Russan to confront the Brotherhood of Darkness. Its ancient theme familiar and unshakable – Light vs. Dark. But are the lightsiders truly light? And are the darksiders truly dark?

In the thought bomb all lines are blurred.

The fantastical nature of Jedi vs. Sith made this story better, and indeed, I would appreciate more stories like this in the Star Wars universe. Princesses, witches, dragons, knights and wizards have always been a part of Star Wars. As Owen Lars once famously said “That wizard’s just a crazy old man”. Elements of the fantasy realm included in the Star Wars universe should not off-put us, but should be something that should be included in more Star Wars stories. But alas, you can’t please everyone.

One of the most striking elements of this comic for me was Lord Hoth’s armour, which included on it the fleur-de-lis. I was struck by it because it carries with it such historical connotations. Mostly used by the French monarchy, the fleur-de-lis became a symbol of the papacy in the middle ages, and was often used a reference to the Virgin Mary. Very often in art, Mary would be depicted holding a fleur-de-lis, its three flowers symbolizing the Holy Trinity. I think for the purposes of Jedi vs. Sith, the fleur-de-lis was probably used to give Lord Hoth a kingly or knightly quality – something recognizable as found on a coat-of-arms or present on the flags of monarchies. I wonder if the artist realized the symbol’s historical connotations, or simply added it because it looks cool.

The sheen on Hoth’s armour did not last long however, as the drudgeries of war very quickly weighed on him and his Army of Light. I can understand how difficult it might be to maintain the truths of the Jedi code when one sleeps in mud and engages in life-or-death skirmishes with Sith on a nearly daily basis. I liked how the harsh reality of war had its effect on the Jedi army. Hoth did not act very “Jedi-like” on Russan, as the ravages of war wore away at his most basic principles. He was hot-headed and arrogant, and was in danger of falling to the darkside of the Force as Lord Farfalla had warned.

I also enjoy how Kiel Charney was able to maintain his Jedi dignity, even offering aid to fallen Sith, explaining to young Tomcat that fear was controlling the Sith acolytes: “He’s just afraid! He’s hurt! His Lords have abandoned him…” Tomcat did not understand this teaching, as the world seems very black-and-white to a thirteen year old boy. This depiction of the Jedi seemed real to me- they were not all perfect beings of light always upholding truth honour and the Jedi way. They were broken individuals, prone to weakness, arrogance, and human (or alien) frailty. It was this truth of the human condition, Jedi or not, that Tomcat could not reconcile in his mind, as for him, the term “Jedi” was synonymous with “perfect”.

The best aspect of Jedi vs. Sith though was Valenthyne Farfalla, and his ship the Farwind. What I find remarkable about Valenthyne Farfalla, is that even after being introduced to Star Wars canon nearly a decade ago, there is still no definite answer to his species. Wookieepedia lists Valenthyne’s species as “equine”, but as Leland Chee said: “that 'Equine' was not the species name. Rather, he considered all pointy-eared species to be derivations of the Sephi species”. Valenthyne has more than just “pointy-ears” however, and is the only character in the Star Wars pantheon to sport Satyr-type legs. I think it’s high time that the ‘powers-that-be’ at Lucasfilm write a backstory to Valenthyne’s species. I also thought it neat Valenthyne was a mixture of Elves, Satyrs, and Centaurs.

In his novel Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, Drew Karpyshyn downplayed Valenthyne’s ships, not really providing for the reader a description of them. As it states on, and I don’t know if this quote is reflects the whole truth or not, but Karpyshyn purposely did not include descriptions of Farfalla’s flagship: “In order to remove some of the fairytale characteristics of the original comic, Karpyshyn made no reference to the unusual design of the starships, instead referring to them as "gunships””. This leads credence to the idea that some fans thought the “fairytale” aspects of Jedi vs. Sith were a detriment to the story. After engaging with this source, and thoroughly enjoying it, I wish that Karpyshyn had described Farfalla’s ships as they appeared in the comics. The Farwind was totally awesome! I thought it original and unique, much like Lord Valenthyne himself. Moreover, as one looks into the history of the Farwind, starship build in a boat design are not completely unheard of in Star Wars. Take for example the Tof starship the Merriweather and the flagship of Reddjak the pirate, the Blood Brother. All of these ships have a unique and cool element to them.

Jedi vs. Sith does provide some complications with the correct chronology of events in the Star Wars universe, mostly centering upon exactly when Pernicar dies (or more accurately it was Karpyshyn’s novel which complicated matters). There are basically two different events described. Like I’ve stated in the past, I don’t lose too much sleep over these things, the important thing to note is that Pernicar did die, and his death and a great impact on Lord Hoth, which in turn adversely affected his relationship with Valenthyne – this is the important point to walk away with.

As an aside, I run the sci/fi club at my school, and the students in the club have asked me to run an RPG campaign. I told them I’d GM a Star Wars campaign for them (something I’ve never done), and this week they’re going to decide what era they want to play in. I’m going to offer them a pirate or smuggler focused campaign and see if it’s something they want to do. If they decide they do want to do it, I’m going to see how I can fit a Fairwind type ship into it somehow. I hope to run a totally awesome campaign this year.

For my next post I’m going to engage with the second book of the Bane trilogy, Darth Bane: Rule of Two. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

1002 - 1000 BBY: Darkness Shared

Darkness Shared is a sad story of the senselessness of war. Good does not overcome evil in a grand moment of victory; but darkness does manage to snuff out the light in an obliterating gesture of rage. This is a story about two beings wrapped in their own feelings of hatred seeking mutually assured destruction.

On the surface, Darkness Shared seems like a story where neither the lightside nor the darkside of the Force gains victory, since Crain Maru and Koax Krul are both destroyed in the end. But when one examines the outcome, the day was won by the darkside of the force.

It was the darkside that won at the end of this story, because Crain Maru was unable to deal with the loss of her padawan at the hands of a Sith. In her final duel with Krul, she let her anger and rage lead her actions, and in doing so, lead herself to her own destruction. I felt sympathetic to Crain’s fall to the darkside, but her fall did not come as any great surprise. Her inability to find peace and then repose in that peace is what separated her from knighthood to mastery. Crian knew this was a weakness she had to overcome, but unfortunately she ran out of time to find a solution to this particular flaw. As Slavicsek writes at the beginning of the tale: “Crian Maru sat rigid in her chair, using every meditative exercise she knew to remain calm and in control. She wasn't sure how the Jedi Masters did it. They always looked so serene, so at peace. Perhaps she would eventually achieve such a constant state of quiet reflection and confidence, the conditions that she believed separated a Jedi Knight from a Jedi Master.” Crain was not able to find that state of quite reflection and confidence, especially in the heat of battle with a marauder of the Sith.

Originally printed in Gamer #5, Darkness Shared now resides on the pages of Hyperspace – the home for lost and forgotten short stories from the Star Wars universe. Like most stories on Hyperspace, Darkness Shared is a gem of a tale.

Bill Slavicsek, writer of the original Star Wars roleplaying game, and editor and creative designer of a plethora of roleplaying material, is a legend in his industry. It’s interesting that he hasn’t written more short stories for Star Wars – I wish he had.

Darkness Shared is a tight little narrative which reveals a simple yet complex understanding of the nature of the Force. What I enjoyed about this story were the small nuances: how the weather performed as a secondary character, and how the thesis of the story was Crain’s inability to move to a higher appreciation of the Force.

I also enjoyed Crain’s description of the Force. She understood the Force as music – a song within her soul. But what was most interesting about this was that this wasn’t how all Jedi understood the Force. The perception of the Force by each Jedi was unique: “Other Jedi explained it differently. Her Master had described it as an omnipresent mist that swirled and drifted constantly around him. Dree described it as a still pond; when it rippled, it told her things.” This personal description of the Force reminded of how Hindus understand God. Many people think that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, when it fact it is a deeply monotheistic one. Hindus worship Brahman – the ultimate and transcendent reality, a singular force. The way they worship Brahman is through devotion to particular Gods or Goddess: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Krishna, Ganesh, etc. All of these Gods and Goddesses are representations of Brahman, and each one is a simple aspect of the ultimate reality that can be comprehended by the limited human mind. Yet all of these Gods are Brahman, for Brahman is multi-faceted and beyond a singular definition. All representations of Brahman are true and correct. As each person sees God (all that which is good and benevolent), so it is God.

A new way of understanding of the Force was one extremely cool aspects of this story, as was the description of Koax Krul’s armour. A mixture of Sith individualism and Sith alchemy, Krul’s armour is a fascinating piece of equipment: “He wore black body armour of his own design. It consisted of protective padding and composite plates crafted into an intricate pattern that glorified the Sith and the Brotherhood of Darkness. He had also used Sith alchemy to imbue the armour with dark side energy, creating a barrier that provided some protection against the abilities of the Jedi. He was proud of the work he had done, both the menial construction and the application of Sith magic, and he wore the armour as a symbol of his faith in the dark side of the Force.” I wonder, exactly, what Krul had done to his armour, and how his knowledge of Sith alchemy benefited his suit. Moreover, I wonder where Krul learned to use Sith alchemy, as it seemed from the Darth Bane novel, such things were not really practiced at the Sith academy on Korriban – it’s focus seemed mostly hand-to-hand combat.

What I most enjoyed about this story though, was its intertexuality. Written in 2004, this story built upon the trade paperback comic Jedi vs. Sith and the events and characters there – Lord Hoth and Lord Kaan being the characters referred to. Jedi vs. Sith first came on the scene in 2001. Darkness Shared expanded upon that story, and after it came Karpyshyn’s novel in 2006, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction. This was followed by Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force in 2007, which contains elements of Path of Destruction (and a source I’ll cover when I’ve completed the Bane trilogy). What is more, each of these texts covered a different genre: it started in the comic format, moved to the short story, then to the novel, and then to reference guide. I love how Star Wars literature is scaffolded upon itself, and the meaning of one text is shaped by another text and another author. The Story of Darth Bane is not one author’s story, but belongs to Darko Macan, Bill Slavicsek, Drew Karpyshyn, Ryder Windham, and us – the readers of these texts. I sometimes think that Star Wars literature is a giant experiment in poststructuralism – maybe I’ve found my actual PhD thesis?

At the end of the day, I really enjoy engaging with sources that are found on Hyperspace. But I do need some clarification from more knowledgeable sources: is Hyperspace going away? I remember getting an e-mail about Hyperspace but I can’t remember what it said. It left me with the general impression that Hyperspace as we know it will soon no longer exists. Someone correct or verify my understanding here. I convinced myself that Hyperspace would be shut down, so in response I copied all the stories from it – all 200+ stories, and saved them all to a file on my computer. It took me nearly a week to do it too!

Anyway…for my next post I’ll be looking at the trade paperback Jedi vs. Sith – the progenitor of the Bane narrative. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

1006 BBY - 1000 BBY: Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

This is it. This is the book that started it all.

It was late July, 2009, and I was standing at the sci-fi section of my local Chapters handling the book Darth Bane: Path of Destruction. My wife and I were heading to her friend’s cottage for the August long weekend and I was looking for some reading material. It had been over a decade since I had read a Star Wars book and I was looking to read a bit of fluff and thought it would be neat to see what the Star Wars literary world had to offer and old fan like me. I remembered reading the Thrawn trilogy back in high school and really enjoying it. As I was looking at the plethora of Star wars titles before me, my hand reached for the red Darth Bane book. The name and the colour caught my eye.

I opened the front cover of the book and examined the timeline of Star Wars novels. This wasn’t an unfamiliar timeline to me, nor was this the first time I had done such an activity. Anytime I enter a Chapters, I immediately go to the Star Wars section, not really with the intent to buy anything to read, but just to see what’s out there. I had other, more important books to read, I had always told myself.

As I looked at the timeline, something came over me. I decided – right then and there – to read all the novels contained on that Star Wars chronological marker. As soon as I had thought it, I knew I was going to do it. A feeling of assured purpose overwhelmed me. I was going to set myself on a path to read every Star Wars novel.

I bought the book and headed home. That night, the full idea of the Star Wars Chronology Project came to me. I was lying in bed and couldn’t really sleep. I had just finished a few chapters in Path of Destruction, and was daydreaming about Star Wars. Then the full idea hit me. Start a blog, and record my musings - not simply on the Star Wars novels themselves – but *everything* Star Wars. The rest is, as they say, history.

I continued reading Path of Destruction during the first few days I started this project, but put it down somewhere around chapter 22. My other material had come in, and I began to engage with Star Wars from the beginning.

This time around was basically my second reading of Darth Bane: Path of Destruction and I enjoyed it. At the back of the book jacket, someone from Publisher’s Weekly wrote of Karpyshyn’s novel “A solid space adventure that charts the evolution of an anti-hero almost as chilling as Darth Vader”. This short sentence basically surmises the book quite well.

I’m not sure Karpyshyn is going to win any writing awards, as I found his prose and ability to tell a story fairly average, and he’s by no means a horrible writer. But I did have a few problems here or there with the novel, but nothing so terrible as to make me decry him as a writer. Path of Destruction was a solid story that followed a predictable path – a path that I enjoyed.

I usually like to set up what my topics of discussion will be with regards to a particular piece, but for this post I might just free flow my ideas.

We’ve moved ahead approximately 500 years since our last source, so I’ll begin my musing with the character of Bane, or Dessel, as he was otherwise known – the reason we are where we are in history.

Bane is an interesting character, and I enjoyed how Karpyshyn guided his evolution through the novel. Though I do have one complaint regarding some dialogue from the beginning of the book. At the start of the novel, when Bane attempted to address the pilot, he used the word “Hey” to get his attention. As Karpyshyn writes: “’Hey” Des said, trying to sound nonchalant” (pg. 15). From some reason this really ground-my-gears. I was irritated by it because, in my mind, a future Dark Lord of the Sith, regardless of whether he or she knows it, must carry with them a certain air of authority. That’s how I would characterize a Dark-Lord-of-the-Sith-in-the-rough if I were to write one. Dessel doesn’t need to sound nonchalant, and it’s not even like he’s suffering from poor self-esteem or anything. When a future Dark Lord of the Sith begins speaking, people listen. The use of “hey” seems tremendously weak to me, and it presented Bane a weak character, which he wasn’t. I guess one could argue that though Bane wasn’t weak, perhaps he thought he was. Anyway, I think this scene could have been re-written as Bane speaking to the pilot and asking him about possible sabacc games and the pilot responding – it didn’t need to be coy. Ultimately though, this is a small and petty complaint.

I did enjoy how Karpyshyn gave Bane an innate knowledge of the Sith code: “Des knew how to turn that fear to his own advantage…Transform the fear into anger and hate: hatred of the enemy, hatred of the Republic and the Jedi. The hate gave him strength, and the strength brought him victory” (pgs.73-74). Even though at this point in the story Bane has yet to receive formal training from the Sith academy, he demonstrated his closeness with the darkside of the Force as a simple foot soldier in the Sith army.

I also enjoyed the scenes of Bane in the library. Anytime I come across a fellow bookworm in the Star Wars pantheon, I feel a little connection to that character. Bane’s approach to the library of Sith teachings is not unlike my own approach to Star Wars. He was looking to consume everything he could surrounding the mysteries of the Sith, like how I myself am trying to uncover all there is to know about the history of Star Wars: “Bane spent several hours each day studying the ancient records…By itself the information had little practical use, but he could see each individual work for what it actually represented: a tiny piece to a much larger puzzle, a clue to a much greater understanding” (pg. 100). I identified with this scene, as I feel sometimes that this is what I’m doing with Star Wars. With that being said however, I don’t think that when I have gone through all Star Wars has to offer some magical understanding of the universe will unlock for me, but maybe I’ll have a “greater understanding” of something.

By the end of the novel Bane’s transformation to the darkside was most defiantly complete. The most chilling scene in the novel was one taken from the pages of the Jedi vs. Sith comic: Bane’s murder of the three young boys and their father. This scene was a counterbalance to all the other scenes preceding it where Bane was filled with existential self-doubt and apologizing to his girlfriend. It seems that in post-modern writing we can never be privy to a hero that is 100% sure of themselves – a Beowulf or Achilles for example. I guess modern readers don’t find this interesting, so every hero, or in this case anti-hero, of every story has to be filled with self-doubt before they reach their epiphany and realize their “true potential”.

Even Lord Kaan, the leader of the Brotherhood of Darkness, was filled with this self-doubt – but his was of a different kind: the result of an unhinged mind.

We meet Lord Kann at the very beginning of the novel, after the Sith have over-run the Jedi on Korriban and recaptured the Sith’s ancestral home. This then implies that Korriban fell back in to Republic hands after the Great Galactic War when the true Sith Empire recaptured it during its invasion of the galaxy in 3681BBY. Which makes me wonder – did the Republic win that conflict after all, or did it lose to the Sith Empire, only to rebuild slowly as a rebellion and comeback after a thousand years of oppression? On page 216 Qordis says to Bane: “The Jedi pillaged the tombs when Korriban fell to them three thousand years ago. Nothing of value remains”. Was Qordis being literal, placing the recapture of Korriban at precisely 3000BBY, or was he simply providing a general date in the heat of an argument with an upstart apprentice? My own suspicions fall to the latter.

Many questions arise with the character of Lord Kaan, and how he went about living out his Sith philosophies. Who taught him the ways of the darkside? What are his opinions of the Sith emperor (I understand that this source was written pre-TOR, so Karpyshyn couldn’t really address this, but I think it’s an interesting questions none-the-less). What were his opinions of Revan? What made him think that organizing the Sith in a manner that promoted equality and co-operation was going to work with the nature of the darkside? (I know hindsight is 20/20 but it’s not the first time I’ve asked this question, Yaru Korsin from the Lost Tribe of the Sith series for example).

One of the more interesting aspect of Lord Kaan was that he’s the only Sith in Star Wars history at this point to be able to use the very rare gift of battle meditation. It’s clear that he’s not a master of it, but still, it’s a dangerous and powerful ability to have. The scene in the book which shows Kaan using his battle meditation provided the scene I most enjoyed in the entire novel. As Kopecz bordered the Jedi cruiser looking for the source of the Republic’s battle meditation, he found the Jedi Master calmly reposing in a meditation chamber: “Kopecz couldn’t help but admire her courage even as he methodically cut her down. Her calm acceptance robbed his victory of any joy. ‘Peace is a lie” he muttered to himself…” (pg. 108). I can imagine that as Kopecz is quoting the Sith code, and reciting aloud that “peace is a lie”, that the Jedi Master is calmly reciting to herself, inwardly, that “There is no death, there is only the Force”. It’s a great scene that expresses the dichotomy of these two faiths.

At the end of the novel, Bane finally defeats all of his opponents in a truly Sith manner – through deception and secrecy: “Secrecy and deception were the weapons to bring them down. Victory could only come through subtly and cunning” (pg. 296). It was this realization that Kaan lacked. And Bane’s insight couldn’t be truer, as it was secrecy, deception, subtlety, and cunning which almost destroyed the Jedi Order in 3963 BBY, when Haazen used these tools against Lucien Draay and Zayne Carrick.

It’s my hope to get through all three Bane novels in the month of September. This month is fairly slow at work, as I don’t really start assigning projects until mid-month, and start marking by the end of the month. The start of a new semester is always a great time for me to focus on my own things before the insanity of the new school year begins to slip into high gear. For my next post I’ll be examining the short story Darkness Shared originally printed in Gamer #5, but now found on Hyperspace. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Circa 1500 BBY: Star Wars Visionaries: Prototypes

After much discussion with Plaristes, I almost skipped past this source in Star Wars history. Though not a terribly huge part, Prototypes, the story found within the pages of Star Wars Visionaries, is the origin story of the bounty hunter Durge – a character featured in the Clone Wars Cartoon Network animated series.

The story Prototypes does not itself directly indicate a date of 1500 BBY. It’s merely a speculative date, taking into account the mention in other source texts that Durge is over 2000 years old, and this being the story of how Durge attained his bounty hunting equipment. It’s generally accepted to focus upon this date because Durge’s page on Wookieepedia has an image of him from this comic, and it is labeled at 1500 BBY. That, and Joe Bongiorno’s timeline has this story listed at circa 1500, and Joe’s timeline is a fairly regarded chronological history by Star Wars fans.

Star Wars Visionaries is an interesting text, with a few very strange stories. One of the stories I’m looking forward to covering is a comic-short titled ‘Wat Tambor and the Quest for the Sacred Eye of the Albino Cyclopes’ How’s that for a header? However, today my focus is Prototypes.

The art in this particular piece is not the best I’ve ever come across, but it has about it a certain appeal. Drawn with thick black lines, shadow and darkness becomes one of the main characters in the story.

In the story, Durge, with his master Jaing, head to a scientist who will infuse into their bodies the latest in destructive weaponry. All we know of Jaing in this story is that he’s Durge’s master, and not much else is given. Wookieepedia flushes out more details on his backstory, stating he was a former Mandalorian who survived the Mandalorian Wars. The source of this information is found in Star Wars insider #80 – The History of the Mandalorians (which I think I own), The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia, and The Star Wars Galaxies trading card game (something I’m completely unfamiliar with). Sources I look forward to coming across in the future.

One of the more interesting things which came of this transformation of Durge and Jiang, is the scientist’s comments to Durge regarding his healing capabilities: “Your unique physiology presented some challenges…it kept trying to heal over my work. It’s quite a gift you have.” Durge is a Gen’Dai – a nearly immortal species living up to 7000 years old. Apparently as a species there are rather peaceful – Durge being the exception to the rule. Though not immortal in the strictest sense, as Gen’Dai age, their minds weaken and become vulnerable to mental illnesses.

What also places this text at around 1500 BBY, was the mention at the end by the scientist of “The grand and long-overdue war between the Mandalorians and the Sith”. This era of history, when one begins to research it, is convoluted at best. I had originally thought that this era of Star Wars chronology was fairly empty, but I was sorely mistaken. From between 2000 BBY, and 1000 BBY, there is not much textual evidence to examine (by that I mean original source text), yet there is a plethora of events, wars, people, and places mentioned, as is indicated by Wookieepedia. If one is interested, look here at the New Sith Wars to get a feel of the depth of events in this time period. It’s my impression that the events spoken of in that article are alluded to somewhere in the pages of the Bane trilogy, and in the TBP Jedi vs. Sith, and through my examination of these sources, I’ll get an idea of the thousand year history between the Dark Lords Darth Ruin and Darth Bane.

Back to the source text of Prototypes, I have to say it was an interesting read. After the operation, Jaing and Durge enter into battle with a human/droid clone creation belonging to the scientist. After nearly destroying each other, the scientist stops the three combatants, and asks Durge and Jiang from defending him from a Mandalorian tribe he slighted. This is a required action on the part of the bounty hunters – payment for their operation.

The story ends with the Mandalorians defeated, and the birth of an even more ruthless Durge.
For my next post I’ll be looking at Drew Karpyshyn’s novel, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction.