Thursday, November 18, 2010

1032 BBY: Knight Errant: Influx

After a successful run with the Knights of the Old Republic comic series, JJM has taken another kick at the comic medium, and has given Star Wars fans a new series that further explores the wide wide world of Star Wars. Set a generation before the events of the Bane trilogy, Knight Errant tells the story of Kerra Holt, and newly minted Jedi Knight bent on challenging the evils of the universe.

The first narrative in this new story arc is Influx, a short story written by JJM which is available at Hyperspace. It tells the story of Kerra’s first mission into Sith space where she accompanies the titans of the Jedi Order on a mission to disrupt the war machine of Daiman –a Sith Lord who believes he is the creator of the universe.

What caught my notice in this particular piece was the readiness of the Jedi to kill, the mention of Chancellor Genarra, and the addition to this story – the Knight Errant Essential Atlas Gazetteer, written by Dan Wallace, Jason Fry, and JJM.

Firstly, what grabbed my attention at the beginning of this story was the readiness of the Jedi to cut down their enemies. When Holt and Treece’s plans for subterfuge had gone awry they immediately turned to their lightsabers to deal with the situation. Initially, the Jedi did try to deal with the Sith in a humane manner, as is shown by Kerra Holt’s attempted mind trick, but when her trick didn’t work, it was straight to the Jedi handing out death sentences against the Sith. The Jedi’s action can still be defendable in that when the mind trick failed the Sith immediately set upon them with the intent to kill, but when the situation took a turn for the worse, where were the Jedi’s temperance? Did any of them think that perhaps what they were doing was wrong, or perhaps there was another avenue to explore before it went straight to killing?

I know Jedi try their best to hold up the ideal but it seems that the Jedi in this story are too comfortable with the notion of bringing their lightsabers in to bear. Did the Jedi on this mission explore every avenue to avoid a death filled outcome, or did convenience (it is simply better to kill them rather than tie them up) – not their moral imperatives – guide their actions?
As I read this I wondered why there wasn’t a back-up plan should the mind-trick fail? Even more, why wasn’t the mind-trick attempted by Master Treece, one presumably more versed in such a passive and usually effective tactic? Wouldn’t the Jedi want to avoid the needless loss of life, I wondered? But I think this was the point which I had missed. After I read the story I realized that I wasn’t dealing with Jedi I as fan of the movies was familiar with. Nor was I dealing with Jedi who took to heart a philosophy of non-violence proffered by luminaries like Master Yoda. I quickly realized I was dealing with a different type of Jedi in this story – I was dealing with Jedi hardened by war, Jedi who have to look past moral imperatives and righteous absolutes in order to get the job done and restore peace in the galaxy. In short – Jedi who believe that ‘the ends justify the means’.

If this was my first dance with JJM, I’d label him as a poor writer and say he doesn’t know what it means to be a Jedi, and point to this opening scene. But this isn’t my first dance with JJM, and I know better. I learned my lesson with the whole Rohland/Demigol story-line. JJM understands exactly what it means to be a Jedi, and I think this story, Influx, is setting up the overall theme of the Knight Errant arc - that a Jedi – in the purest understanding of the word - is not one who cuts corners or only takes the easy way out, as it seems the first group of Jedi we met in this story did. I’ve come to realize JJM knows what he’s doing, and I think he’s going to show his audience what being a morally ambiguous Jedi leads to, not only for the individual Knight (possibly Kerra), but possibly for the Order as a whole as well.

With that being said though, I don’t want to label Kerra with the “morally ambiguous” label, as we’ve only been introduced to her and it is my hope that she emulates the classical traits of a hero. But I was a little shocked at her callous consideration of the slain crew chief: “Hair dripping, the girl knelt over the dead crew chief's body. "'Little missy?' Is that how Sith swear these days?” There is no remorse in her words. She is irritated that she was insulted by a Sith. She is not kneeling over the body to show repentance for her actions – to look at the face of a fellow being and consider the gravity of her choices. Kerra, it seems, is already hardened by war.
Miller sets up this ‘act first and consider your actions second’ attitude amongst the Jedi in describing for us how they are being trained during this time period. As he explains of Kerra’s training, she never had time for ‘tradition’ on her path to Knighthood: “Dorivan liked tradition, but Kerra never had time for the trappings” – in this instance Kerra sounds like Bane’s adversaries when the future Dark Lord was at the academy. Bane’s adversaries never had time for tradition. Instead they wanted to fast-track their skills at the feet of a Sith Lord. Unlike Bane who spent the time researching and discovering his Sith heritage. I think this introduction to our new Star Wars heroine is interesting, as it seems like her actions and her training was quicker, easier, and more seductive. It seems she was trained to get immediate results and to dismiss the purpose of the journey involved in training and learning and growing as a Knight.

Continuing in this line of thought, JJM writes: “trying to learn the skills the Jedi could teach her as quickly as possible – it was the better path” or is it? JJM continues: “A lot of the regular ways of doing things had changed by necessity in recent times. With Knights needed at the front, there simply weren't enough teachers to go around; Padawans tended to apprentice for short periods under whoever was available.” I think maybe that JJM is showing that this ‘learning as quickly as possible because we’re at war’ theme is how all Jedi are behaving in this period, and maybe JJM is going to show us exactly how difficult it is to be a Jedi, and how difficult it is to carry the moral ideals that such a title and responsibility holds.

Moving on to my next point, I thought the mention of chancellor Genarra – a female Jedi chancellor – very cool. Again, this ties in to the Bane trilogy and the character of Farfalla. It was assumed that after the Russan Reformations that Farfalla would naturally take the role of chancellor of the Republic, but in that particular text it mentioned that the role had gone to a non-Jedi, breaking with four-hundred years of tradition. We are lead to believe in the Bane trilogy that this break was surprising, and in my post regarding that text I spilled much ink on the notion of Jedi chancellors. I also looked into the history of chancellors of the Republic and was shocked to find that one of the Republic’s greatest chancellors was a Hutt. Needless to say, I was fairly excited when Genarra was mentioned. Firstly because I think this is the first time in Star Wars history that there is mention of a female chancellor, and secondly, this mention shed light on the topic of chancellorship and further flushed out some of the history of this role. I wonder how old she is, and if maybe she’s another older woman portrayed in a positive light, like the older woman who appeared in the Exar Kun timeline (for a further explanation of what I’m talking about here see my post on the Kun timeline).

I also thought it interesting that in talking about the chancellor, Dorivan referenced the Jedi role of consular as an uncommon choice among the recruits of the day. Dorivan brings this up as he asks Kerra if she would follow that particular path of Jedi wisdom.

Taking into account the role of a Jedi counselor, a counselor is one who: “sought to perfect the art of diplomacy and mediation, hoping to calm a tense situation or mend hurt feelings through civil discourse, reasoning, and parley, rather than drawing their lightsabers and cutting down an attacker” (definition of Jedi counselor on wookieepedia) it’s no wonder that this particular form of Jedi mastery is nowhere to be found. Who needs a bunch of reasoned diplomats in a time of war? It seems that in 1032 BBY most Jedi recruits pursue the role of Jedi Guardian – the warriors of the Jedi Order.

As it is, I enjoyed the first story of this particular narrative, and I’m now looking forward to picking up my copies of the Knight Errant comic at my local comic shop this weekend.

But the Knight Errant material available on Hyperspace does not end there. Last week we were treated to a supplementary piece of material that further flushed out the backstory of Influx: the Knight Errant Essential Atlas Gazetteer. This, however, isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with material in the style of the Essential Atlas. My first encounter with this particular style of Star Wars material came in the collection of Xim stories from last year. The text I engaged with at that time was a piece titled Xim and the Tion Cluster. There, Fry delineated the galactic history of the Tion cluster and how the Pirate Prince Xim affected historic events in that particular space in the galaxy. Likewise, in this particular piece, Fry, Wallace, and Miller give a picture of the area of space Holt and the Jedi strike team are heading to, along with a preface written by Master Treece to chancellor Genarra about the history of the Sith in that region.

What I love about Fry and Wallace’s work in these bits of Star Wars chronology are what Plaristes refers to as their ‘throw away lines’. Take for example their excerpt on the planet Sarrassia: “The religious war that has devastated Sarrassia since the rule of Chancellor Am-Ris is reportedly at an end under the rule of Lord Bactra, who has kept the Grumani Hierophants in check and barred Spumani Crusaders from pursuing their typically sanguinary quests.” This piece of text is absolutely pregnant with Star Wars history. Where does one even begin to engage with this? With an investigation into chancellor Am-Ris? With Lord Bactra? With the Grumani Hierophants? Or perhaps maybe with the Spumani Crusaders? What’s a lover of Star Wars history to do when faced with such extreme sub-text?

I also enjoyed this particular bit because it reminded me of our own real-world events. Attempting to stop the sectarian violence ravaging Sarrassia, Lord Bactra placed the planet under his dictator thumb, subduing needless conflict which interfered with his own plans of dominion. In this line I couldn’t help but think of Saddam Hussein, and how during his reign he managed to keep the bloodshed amongst the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims to a minimum. That’s not to say he didn’t exact some bloodshed of his own, but he did manage to quell the sectarian violence in Iraq. Hussein – a minor Sith Lord indeed.

The last bit of the Gazetteer was by far my most favourite. The Children of Mani post-script was completely awesome to a theology academic like me. I’ve placed a special note on this bit of information, as I hope to use this passage and its implications in my own Star Wars writing eventually.

I look forward to examining the Essential Atlas when I get to in, and with regards to the Star Wars Chronology Project, it will be the last source I engage with.

On a personal note, it might be a while before I post again. My wife is seven months pregnant with our second child (another boy) and unfortunately this pregnancy has been hard on her. Her doctor has placed her on bed rest which means all household duties are now my sole responsibility. This, as you can imagine, has made my life very busy. I try to complete all my daily tasks with joy in my heart, but these last few weeks have become very wearisome for me. I still try to find pockets of time to continue with my Star Wars quest, but in doing so, I’m taking away precious time from other tasks I should be fulfilling. But still, if I didn’t have this little project of mine I’d fear my life would be totally devoid of “me” time. As it is, I’m not sure when I’ll post again.

With that being said however, my next post (whenever I’m able to get to it) will be on the Knight Errant comic material. As I said earlier I’m heading to the comic shop this weekend and I’ve placed myself on a monthly subscription. I’ll engage with as many issues as I can, and then move on in the project to Tales #17, The Apprentice. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

3960 BBY: The Lost Tribe of the Sith: Purgatory

The Lost Tribe of the Sith series has grown on me.

I like what JJM is doing with these small e-novellas and the fact that they are being produced on a nearly tri-annual basis. I was a little wary of the series after the third installment Paragon. I thought JJM was going to write a small little trilogy about some lost Sith and that was that. I enjoyed Savior, the last installment, but at the time I thought it was a little gratuitous because I wasn’t sure what JJM was going for or what the purposes of these novellas were. With the completion of the fifth title in the series, Purgatory, I think I see what JJM is doing: he’s exploring the story of Sith culture as it grows in isolation from the rest of the galaxy, and he’s connecting in novella form all of his Star Wars tales. I at first thought he was only going to tell a short story about some abandoned Sith, but his Lost Tribe series is more than that – it’s an exploration of the Sith mindset, Sith governance, the Sith people, and an exploration of a culture that glorifies the individual and places societies’ emphasis on the “me” and not the “we”. I see now that JJM will weave these stories through his already established ones in the KOTOR series, and will most likely entwine these novellas into his new story cycle Knight Errant.

JJM has recreated something new in Star Wars literature that resembles and reminds me of the early work of famous American writers. Artists like Henry James and Mark Twain used to have their short stories regularly published in magazines. At the time of these small publications James and Twain weren’t the literary giants they are today (with that being said though, they were recognized by their contemporaries as excellent artists), and had to produce something to make ends-meat. Many famous writers of American and English literature would write short stories and look for a magazine to publish them in, and they were usually paid by the word. If I remember correctly (and I’m not sure I do), I think James’ novel The Golden Bowl was originally published in a magazine in parts over the span of many months. It was a way for these writers to showcase their work, and generate interest so they could sell novels. Once a writer had written the entire story over the span of many magazines, he would then find a publisher to run the complete story in book form.

It’s only a matter of time before all of JJM’s novellas are collated and made into paper and print format for us to buy. And once this is done I myself will buy a copy because, as I’ve said before, I like to have a hard copy of Star Wars stories, complete with book jacket and pretty cover page sitting on my bookshelf. I like to have a material item I can flip through, reference, and handle.
Again, it is this reason that I love the format of the Star Wars Adventure Journal so much. It was a quarterly publication that contained five to six short stories per issue with some characters from these short stories included in many of the journals. The stories of Alex Winger, for example, run from Adventure Journals one through seven, and she appears again in issue twelve.

I know I’ve harped on about this before, but I would truly love to see the Adventure Journal format get picked up again because it’s a format which is conducive to what JJM is doing with his Lost Tribe series. I think JJM’s work is showing that Star Wars storytelling needs this medium (the short story medium) to come to life again. The e-format is nice because it’s free and easy to access. But at the same time I'm not a fan of the electronic formate becuase I’m not one of those in the literary world prognosticating the end of print media as we know it. I also don't subscribe to the idea that eventually all books will be placed in electronic format for our iPads to download. No matter what is said, I don’t believe any piece of electronic media can replace the book. Maybe I’m not seeing the writing on the wall, but I don’t feel like I actually own a story the way I do when it’s on my shelf as opposed to my hard-drive.

I suppose for the Star Wars Adventure Journal to be re-born a new company has to come along and purchase the Star Wars RPG license since it was originally West End Games who published the Journals. Since Wizard of the Coast has discontinued producing Star Wars RPG material, the fate and future of the game is in question. Does anyone reading this blog know what is happening or what might happen with the Star Wars RPG license? Has it been picked up again? Will Star Wars RPG material be produced once more? I’ve daydreamed of starting a gaming company with a bunch of other people, pooling our money, and buying the license so the Star Wars RPG can come to life again. I know this is a pipe-dream, considering the 800 pound gorilla in the RPG gaming world, WOTC, couldn’t handle the license itself. If not WOTC who is supposed to step in and take over?

Take a look at the fan fiction being produced at There must be hundreds of stories there with the archive going back nearly 10 years. This is the Star Wars Adventure Journal in seed form. I would love to see the most highly rated stories from this archive printed in a book (five or six stories per issue), complete with artwork (artwork which could also be fan produced. Head over to the swtor forums and see some of the brilliant Star Wars art being produced there) coupled with RP stats of the main characters involved. I’m sure the rights to these stories could be purchased and a low cost, the benefit to the writers and artist being their work becomes Star Wars canon. It could also have the added benefit of launching some of these fabulous writers and artist into possible Star Wars careers.

One man’s wild dream, that’s all.

I think in this post I was supposed to talk about JJM’s Purgatory, wasn’t I?

Alas, funnily enough, I haven’t much to say about it. Brining the legacy of the stranded Sith on Kesh ahead a millennium and into the history of the KOTOR comic series, JJM introduces us to Jelph Marrian, a Jedi shadow on the run. Ultimately I thought it neat that JJM included in this narrative the character of the Jedi Shadow. I wonder if he was one of the faces shown on Lucien Draay's holo-screen from KOTOR voulme 5 (Vectors 1)? Presumably in the employ of Lucien Draay, Jelph Marrian, a knight in the Jedi Covenant, knew he couldn’t return to the Covenant after its defeat at the hands of the Jedi Order. Sending himself into self-imposed exile he headed for deep space, only to find himself marooned on a planet full of Sith: his worst nightmare come true. The story of Purgatory ends with Jelph caught up in the affairs of Ori – his love interest and a disposed member of the Sith ruling class. As JJM writes: “He was a lone Jedi on an entire planet full of Sith. His existence threatened them—but their existence threatened everything.”

I’m looking forward to JJM’s next instalment of the series. In the meantime I’ve decided to read and comment on Knight Errant, so for my next post I’ll engage with Influx, the new Knight Errant story by JJM found on Hyperspace. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

3998 BBY - 3996 BBY: The Fall of Exar Kun (BTC 347)

Exar Kun has no relation to the Sith Empire, nor does he connect his Sith linage to the emperor of the ‘True Sith Empire’. This much was established in the TOR timeline The Fall of Exar Kun. This, the tenth timeline in the series, and set in BTC 347, tells the story of Exar Kun’s fall from the lightside of the Force and his rise to the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith. The events contained in this timeline are not new to us, as most of this history we are already familiar with in our examinations of The Dark Lords of the Sith and The Sith War.

Though not much new is revealed in the way of history, there were certain aspects from this piece I found remarkable.

At the start of the timeline an interesting threesome of Jedi are depicted. Part of the Jedi council, these three were seen discussing amongst each other what to do about Kun’s newfound interest in all things Sith. I wonder who these three are. What is more, the older woman with the short white hair looked interesting, as she reminded me of a grandmother type figure. I liked that an old woman was included as part of the council, and in doing so, the writers at TOR placed aged women in a positive light. When we come across an old woman in Star Wars she seems to fit into the character type of crafty old hag (Kreia) or evil witch (Queen Amanoa). If a woman is on the council she tends to be young and nubile (Adi Gallia), or if she is older, she is an alien (Yaddle). Old women in literature seem to get a poor presentation. It seems that old stereotypes die hard. If an old woman has power – any kind of power – she must necessarily be evil, or a witch, or out to destabilize the power structures of men. And if she is knowledgeable or powerful or good (Jocasta Nu) she must be placed somewhere where she can’t really have input on any important decisions. Needless to say, it still seems like old woman with power can’t be trusted – even in the Star Wars universe. Kudos to the writers at TOR for including an old woman on the council.

Old women aside, there were some events and people in this timeline that were notably absent; namely, Nomi Sunrider and the circumstances surrounding her and Ulic. As Master Gnost-Dural says: “Qel-Droma abandoned the darkside and betrayed Exar Kun”. This description is not accurate, as we know that it was Ulic’s epic confrontation with Nomi, and his subsequent stripping of the Force, that coloured his relationship with Kun. I found it remarkable that the Sever Force ability perpetrated by Sunrider was not mentioned at all. If I were to hazard a guess at this, I think on the surface the writers did not want to include this detail so as to not create speculation that this might be an ability players may have in-game. But who knows? It could be a stun ability used by the Jedi Wizard. Still, I was a little disappointed that this, the most powerful lightside attack, was glossed over. As stated by Master Odann-Urr it is the most devastating attack in the entire arsenal of Force powers, both light and dark.

My buddy and I had a discussion about the Sever Force ability a few weeks back. Knowing how powerful the ability is, I wondered why more Jedi did not use this spell on darksiders. It was my stance in this discussion that the Jedi should use it more often. Jedi are absolutists, I argued, and since they are absolutists they must necessarily see it as their mission to rid the universe of the darkside. Since Severing the Force does not kill the person the ability is enacted upon it is the ultimate weapon of the light – respecting the sanctity of life, all the while stripping those of power who use it selfishly and irresponsibly and who endanger innocent lives. Why wouldn’t the Jedi use this ability all the time?

My friend countered with a wise and prudent point. He said: “Sever Force is the most powerful ability the Force has to offer – as a matter of fact, it’s absolute power – and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If used too often and too recklessly, this power of the light could quickly lead a noble Jedi with the best intentions down the dark path. It’s a terrifying ability, not because of what it does to the darksider on the wrong end of the spell, but because of what it does to the Jedi who enacts it”.

His answer gave me pause, and helped me understand why the Jedi are so weary of this capability. In my examinations of Star Wars history thus far, this power has been used on two occasions (Sunrider and the Jedi Exile), and at the time I was examining this material I felt the warnings by Master Odan-Urr were too cautious: “To block a Jedi from the Force—even a Dark Jedi—is a terrible thing." I couldn’t understand his warning, and I didn’t understand why it was such a terrible thing. I think I do now.

As far as timelines from SWTOR go, The Fall of Exar Kun was interesting, but it didn’t reveal much surrounding the figure of the Sith emperor, except to say that the Sith spirits that supported Kun don’t seem to support the emperor.

One can speculate as to why the writers at Bioware would include this timeline which does not reveal much historically, and on its surface, does not seem to further the plot of the TOR story in too great a capacity. Perhaps Kun appears in the game as a foil to the Sith emperor – a path a “Gray Jedi” could explore while aligned with the Republic? Maybe he is a raid Boss? Maybe he is a quest giver? Like I said, we can speculate as to why this timeline is important to the game, but until the game’s release all discussion surrounding this lays on the pitch of supposition.

Again, I think the Exar Kun timeline is interesting, not because of what it reveals, but because of what has not been mentioned in TOR’s timelines to date; namely, any consideration for the events of KOTOR 2 and the Jedi Exile. Granted, Malachor V was mentioned in the previous timeline, but not in any great detail, and the story of the Jedi Exile’s contribution to galactic history seems to be going ignored. Many questions arise from this absence. What did the Sith triumvirate have to do with the Sith emperor, if anything? (and if nothing, then why not mention the negative relation as in Kun’s timeline?)

I know a number of fans from the SWTOR forum pages have become fairly hot and bothered over this perceived snub on the part of Bioware regarding Obsidian’s contributions to the Star Wars mythos and its work on KOTOR 2. And even though I find their approach to discussing this lack of KOTOR 2 material aggressive, arrogant, combative, and ultimately disrespectful of other people willing to engage with them on this topic, their questions and inquiries are relevant. Why has Bioware seemed to have ignored the events of KOTOR 2? This is a valid question.

Rob Chestney attempted to address this question on the SWTOR forums, basically saying ‘the events of KOTOR 2 happened behind the scenes and most people in the galaxy were unaware of the events of the (Dark) war’. He goes on to say that he thought a timeline on the events of the Dark War were important, but in the context of the timeline series would confuse players. This answer, I think, only further irritated players and fans of the KOTOR franchise, and even though I believe Chestney was being genuine in his answer to the community, he response seemed to be somewhat dismissive of the communities concerns.

I myself have a few problems with this statement. Firstly, calling the near complete destruction of the Jedi Order by the hands of Nihilus a ‘historical footnote’ is problematic at best. Secondly, in the story of KOTOR 2 there is a historian present by the name of Mical. One would think a historian contained within the KOTOR 2 story would record these events to keep for posterity. What is more, the narrator of these timelines, Master Gnost-Dural, is himself a historian, and taking his character into consideration, one would think he would have uncovered the events of the Dark War, and he most likely would want to address the almost complete destruction of the Jedi Order at the hands of the Sith. For an in-depth look at fans reactions to Chestney’s statement, check out the Star Wars discussion forums at

Ultimately I wish that the developers at Bioware would have taken the time to address the important events of the KOTOR 2 story, and not worry about ‘confusing’ me. I’m a smart lad, as are all the other fans on the swtor forums – we can connect the dots.

For my next post I’m going to look at JJM’s fifth installment of the Lost Tribe of the Sith series: Purgatory. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.