Sunday, July 31, 2011

38 BBY: Jedi Apprentice: Special Edition #2: The Followers

The Followers, Jude Watson’s last installment of the Jedi Apprentice series, takes us a further year into Star Wars history to 38 BBY. I’ve really enjoyed Watson’s contributions to Star Wars lore thus far, and I’m looking forward to engaging with her other series: Jedi Quest and Last of the Jedi. I’m also glad I’ve collected the books, as my sons will have some Star Wars material available to them when they begin to read.

Though we’ve moved ahead a year in Star Wars history, the story itself is contradictory on this point. I think we’ve come across Watson’s first continuity gaffe (the first I’ve noticed anyway). Not bad considering she’s twenty novellas deep into writing Star Wars mythos and this one seems to be a simple oversight. Regarding Bant, Obi-Wan’s friend and Master Kit Fisto’s new apprentice, we’re given Qui-Gon’s perspective that: “ Not only was she a good friend of his own eighteen-year-old apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, but ever since the death of her Master Tahl years ago, Qui-Gon found himself feeling protective of her” (1). The words here I’m focusing on are “years ago”. Later in the story we are told that: “Qui-Gon had been deeply in love with Tahl, and though she had been killed several months ago, her absence still felt like a blade in his chest” (51). The difference here, obviously, is the change from years to months. What’s interesting about this description of Qui-Gon’s past is that the entire paragraph about Qui-Gon’s relationship with Tahl here seems dropped in and very out of place. One can read this page, skip the entire paragraph about Qui-Gon’s lingering feelings about Tahl’s death, and the integrity of the narrative would not have been compromised. I almost wonder if it was one of Watson’s editors who placed this paragraph in, because it’s not like her to make oversights like this. It just seems very out of place.

Continuity gaffes aside, I believe this is the first time Kit Fisto enters Star Wars history. Kit Fisto has been one of the Jedi Master’s from this time period I’ve been enjoying more and more. My growing interest in him started with the first season of The Clone Wars in episode 10, The Lair of Grievous. He seemed so cool in that episode. And the wisdom he departed to his wayward apprentice was good and sage Jedi advice. Hopefully his character will be further flushed out before his untimely death at the hands of Darth Sidious.

However, the most interesting aspect of The Followers was the character or Murk Lundi. Surprisingly, (or not so) Lundi is the invention of Watson herself. I was surprised by this because I thought for sure Lundi was a creation of either Abel Pena or Ryder Wyndham because he is a prominent character in Pena’s essay Evil Never Dies. Also, he was a character featured in The Essential Guide to the Force, so I thought Wyndham may have been responsible for the Sith historian’s creation. Pena gives great detail about Lundi in his essay, even quoting some of his texts in his reference of Sith history. The character of ‘the Star Wars professor’ is one I’ve always liked since coming across professor Skynx, first featured in the Han Solo trilogy. The ‘Star Wars Professor’ is a great character-type to have around in a narrative because there is so much you can do with them.

My final point of discussion regarding The Followers was the mention of the Jedi finding stores of Sith artifacts: “Another collection of Sith materials was found – this time on the planet Tynna in the Expansion Region” (50). I wonder which Jedi discovered these collections. At the start of the story there is mention of ‘Jedi Teams’ investigating rumors of Sith, but not much else is given. I wonder if Jedi Shadows operate during this time period. Were the Sith artifacts discovered by a secretive Jedi like Celeste Morne or Jelph Marrian? Does this Jedi Council allow such a sect of Jedi to operate? Jedi Shadows have always been the sexiest of all the Jedi cults.

As it is, I’ll have to engage with The Followers again at 28 BBY to continue the rest of the story of ‘Mad Professor Lundi and the search for the Sith Holocron’. For my next post I’ll be leaving the pages of the written word and moving to the comic medium, examining Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan and the Auroient Express. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Star Wars Chronology Project: Two Years Later

I think I need to face the fact that I’m not going to finish my PhD in Star Wars-ology in four years. I think if I’m going to be realistic I’d say I’ll probably finish in another six, making it eight years to get through every bit of Star Wars related media: nearly a decade.

My only concern is what I’ll do when I finish. I have some ideas, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

As it is, it’s been two years and I’m still going strong (and so are you, my reader). To be honest, it could take me twenty years to get through everything Star Wars and I wouldn’t care. I love what I’m doing.

Having a goal I think is good for me; it makes life make a little more sense. A few weeks ago my buddy and I were talking about The Road by Cormac McCarthy (My favorite author BTW). My friend made the observation that without a purpose people simply loose the will to live. Surviving for the sake of surviving is not enough, as was demonstrated by the wife in the story. Without a purpose, simply sitting there waiting to die, trying to eke out a living in the meantime, the wife/mother took her own life. The father, realizing he had to live for his son, decided they would make their way to the ocean. He gave them a goal for the sake of having a purpose. In the pursuit of that goal, their life, though terrible and tragic and desperate in that world, was more bearable, and indeed, made life worth living.

The Star Wars Chronology Project is my walk to the ocean. When I get there I know it’ll be anticlimactic. It has never been about getting there; it has always been about the journey itself and the friends I’ve collected along the way. To quote Ursula K. Leguin “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”

To those who have been with me from the start, thank you for all you have contributed – the Star Wars Chronology Project is better with you around – you bring it to its fullest potential. To those who have recently joined me in my quest, I thank you too, your contributions make sustain me, and I hope you stick around until the end.

Here’s to the continued journey!

Friday, July 29, 2011

39 BBY: Secrets of the Jedi (chapters 1-20)

I think when I get to the post Return of the Jedi material, I’ll miss these somewhat pedestrian Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi stories. There is quaintness in them I think I’ll long for.

It’s good to know the fate of the galaxy doesn’t hinge on these two every time they take a mission. I mention this because I’m reacting to a post I read on forums, where one person posted a link to the new FOTJ book being released next spring, and another poster sarcastically asked if “this the one were an immense evil power comes to threaten the galaxy and it is defeated by Luke, Han & Leia? I sure hope so!”

Though I am unfamiliar with much of the Star Wars saga after Return of the Jedi minus the Thrawn trilogy and a few other sources, from the outside looking in it does seem that these three, or their offspring, save the galaxy quite a bit.

Secrets of the Jedi, much like Watson’s work in the Jedi Apprentice series, is nothing more than a small tale about two Jedi going about their Jedi business helping those in need, dealing with duty, friendship, and that tricky thing called love. This time out they have to protect a young boy being hunted by bounty hunters. The boy has vital information than can ruin a corporate fat-cat, so naturally the corporate fat-cat has hired killers to knock him off. The Jedi keep the boy safe, but the young witness wizens up at the end and realizes if he testifies he as good as dead, so he keeps his mouth shut.

Poor Gui-Gon and Obi-Wan (and Siri and Adi Gallia); all that work for nothing.

Besides Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan saving the 20 political leaders from assassination, there were some other aspects of this book I thought fairly neat. The first facet of this book I want to comment on is Watson’s interpretation of the Force. Once the Jedi had landed on Quadrant Seven, they took to sneaking around town trying to find transportation off the planet. Unfortunately, the bounty hunter was also there looking to see if they survived his attack: “He felt the darkside surge as a warning just as Adi pulled him back from walking out into the watery sunlight” (242). This particular passage raised some questions for me: does this mean the bounty hunter is a force user or force sensitive, since Qui-Gon detected the darkside of the Force, or does it mean that behind all bad-intentioned beings lies the darkside of the force? Conversely then, if it is the case that a person need not necessarily be force-sensitive yet the Force can color their intentions for other force-sensitives to pick up on, do all people’s good intentions radiate with the lightside of the force? Does this mean that the Force, on its own, can indict intent of all living beings? Curious.

Outside of the question of whether or not the Force broadcasts your intentions, there were also some smaller aspects of the book I found neat. It has been a while since a Mandalorian has been a part of the Star Wars story, and here in this tale we are introduced to Lunasa, a female Mandalorian bounty hunter: “By the look of her armor, Qui-Gon guessed she was a Mandalorian, or at least that she had somehow procured some of the warrior army’s famous weaponry” (245). What has happened to the Mandalorians during this particular timeframe in Stare Wars history has yet to be cleared (from chronological perspective) but obviously their culture is still about causing grief for the Republic. Also, it’s not very often we come across a female Mandalorian. Lunasa is a rare character indeed.

Yet, a very interesting line from the Jedi archivist Jocasta Nu made me realize that a Mandalorian need not necessarily play adversary to the Republic all the time. When trying to identify the leader of the bounty hunter assassination squad, Qui-Gon contacted the temple for more information. After Jocasta Nu determined that the bounty hunter in question was Magus, she commented that if Qui-Gon could prove he was a corporate assassin: “we could put him on the Galactic Apprehend List” (284). I had never heard of this list before, but what immediately came to my mind were the possibilities of writing stories about a bounty hunter for the good guys, one who tracks down the wanted criminals of the Galactic Apprehend List and brings them to the Republic to face justice – a Star Wars Texas Ranger.

Speaking about writing fiction, for some reason I’ve been on this Star Wars pirate kick. There are not enough stories about pirates in the Star Wars universe, so when I’m done this little project of mine I might try my hand at adding a little bit of detail to that corner of the universe. With the being said I’m paying a little more attention to anything pirate related in my journey, so the mention of pirates and interdiction fields on page 289 is something I’m noting for myself for the future.

As it is, the pirates in this story, after capturing the boy with the information and the bounty posted on his head, sent Obi-wan and Siri to their fiery graves by blasting their ship out of space. It seems cutting through the wall of a crashing ship and using the force to slow your decent is in the Jedi handbook, (the other handbook that’s not the Jedi path). Obi-wan and Siri escaped the crashing ship in the exact same manner as Aryn Leneer and Zeerid Kor did from 3000+ years earlier in the story Deceived: “Coughing, they buried their lightsabers in the hot metal and it peeled back. Obi-Wan caught a glimpse of rushing sky and then he pushed Siri out, balancing on the toes of his boots…The Force helped them. They timed the leap high and wide so that they would be able to slow their descent” (298). I think it neat that two authors used the same technique to extract their Jedi protagonists from a crashing space ship. I wonder, did Watson influence Kemp, or did Kemp write basically the same sequence in Decived not knowing that Watson had used it years prior in Secrets of the Jedi. Or were both authors offered this idea by a third party -maybe from an editor or someone at Lucasbooks? I’m always interested in the transmission of ideas by authors and how they come up with their stories. I’m not suggesting that Kemp didn’t invent this escape on his own, but whether or not he did it’s evident that Watson thought of it first.

The most significant story to Secrets of the Jedi was the love expressed between Obi-Wan and Siri. What really stood out to me about this sequence of events was how like the priesthood the Jedi order really is. It was Siri more than Obi-Wan who was realistic about their future, and acted in the most mature manner, acknowledging that their love is something that will have to be sacrificed in order for them to continue being Jedi. What is more, it was Qui-Gon’s words which echoed the sentiments of the life of a priest: “Remember that you have chosen a life that includes personal sacrifice. This is the greatest sacrifice you can give” (330). Being a Jedi is not a job, it’s a calling and a vocation.

Un-married Jedi, like un-married priests in the Catholic Church, is not Dogma, and can be subject to change. Though personally I’m of the opinion that I think it’s best for Jedi to remain un-attached (and for priests to remain un-married), I thought Qui-Gon’s words to Obi-Wan about the future of this position prophetic. It was Obi-Wan’s hope that the Jedi council would make an exception for him. Of course they did not, but Qui-Gon said that things could only change should the galaxy change: “They will not change the precepts. Not unless the whole galaxy changes, the whole Order changes, not unless upheaval happens that changes everything. Then, perhaps, the rules will change. But with this Jedi Council? No.” (327). And change the galaxy did. However, it took Obi-Wan’s apprentice, Luke Skywalker, to reexamine this position. I’m looking forward to how Luke handles the proposition of Jedi marriage in the future.

For my next post I’ll quickly acknowledge our 2 year anniversary of trekking through Star Wars history, and then I’ll move on to Jedi Apprentice Special Edition #2, The Followers. On a side note, how important is the prologue to Jedi Quest: The Path to Truth? I have yet to get my hands on this, and I might just leave it until I get to 28 BBY. What do you all think? Also, I’m going to be making a list of books to get through The Phantom Menace material in the most organized and proficient manner as possible. I don’t want to have to look at a source more than once, and I think I’ll need some help with that too. Until next time my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

3000 BBY: Lost Tribe of the Sith: Pantheon

Are we special?

Are we made in the image and likeness of God, as is told to us in the book of Genesis?

I don’t know.

I don’t think so, which places my faith in a very precarious situation – one that makes my heart ache and makes me feel like a foolish child. If I wasn’t created by God then what am I? What is this all about? Are we and all this matter simply the result of a random sequence of events? Chance? You mean I’m not a delicate and unique snowflake? You mean it’s all just absurd, as my old man would have me believe?

Faith, man. It’s a very hard thing to hold on to in this world: a thing that gets harder and harder for me every day. There are some mornings I wake up so full of faith I feel like I can shine God’s light to the world. And there are other days I feel like a mechanical lantern, dark and cold with no gas.

For me, I think my faith was really challenged in 2007 when I watched a documentary from Nova titled Intelligent Design on Trial, about a landmark course case in America centering on the teaching of evolution in public schools. For the record I was never a creationist, I was a theistic evolutionist, one that believes evolution is viable and compatible with the bible. But now I’m not so sure. The documentary seemed so final, so correct. It made me think God had nothing to do with our existence at all, and made me think that one day I may have to re-evaluate the foundations of human values.

Regardless, I tell all this not to lay out my questions of faith, but to say I identified with Iliana, Korsin Bentado, and Neera when they realized Yaru Korsin was nothing but a slave of Naga Sadow, their entire world view and sense of self-worth crashing to the ground – they weren’t special.

I can see Hilts now, writing frantically in his journal:

Yaru Korsin is dead. Yaru Korsin remains dead, nothing more than a runaway slave of Naga Sadow. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the Tribe has yet owned has been cut to bits under our sabers: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the truth of our origins too great for us to bear? We must make ourselves gods to the universe to be worthy of what we own!

I wonder if this means we’re on the cusp of a Keshiri revolution, leading to a new age of enlightenment for the purple natives of Kesh.

Anyway, JJM’s Lost Tribe of the Sith gets better with each addition. For a while now this series has been working its way up my all-time Star Wars favorites list. Beware Zahn and Perry!

For my next post I’m going to get back on to our chronological path at 39 BBY, and look at Secrets of the Jedi, the Qui-Gon section. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

1032 BBY: Knight Errant

Sith space is absolute anarchy. It is the wild west of the Star Wars universe during the last century of the Draggulch period, a place not safe for anyone, especially a lone Jedi.

Knight Errant, JJM’s first Star Wars novel, continues the story of Kerra Holt, a newly minted Jedi Knight trapped behind enemy lines in Sith space. In this novel JJM explores the history of the Grumani sector and the countless Sith Lords who all vie for control of it. The conflict between Daiman and Odian is but a taste of what goes on in Lord Chagras’s former territories, as there are countless Sith Lords involved in all manner of conflict.

For my post today I want to comment on JJM’s exploration of Sith culture and how he has given Star Wars fans multiple interpretations of what it means to be a Sith, how JJM explores this culture by referencing his own previous material, along with other artists’ contribution to the Star Wars universe, Kerra Holt’s growing understanding what it means to be a Jedi, and finally the character of Brigadier Rusher and his comedic side-kicks Ryland Dackett and Beadle Lubbon.

Firstly, though I started with the comment that Sith space is anarchy, after reading Knight Errant one realizes that it’s really not. It’s simply one giant family feud. However, with that being said, one of the most enjoyable aspects of this novel was the constant feeling that there was nowhere safe in Sith space. As Kerra Holt fled the Dyarchy, the constant movement of action finally catching up with her, I felt as she did: “That day in the Dyarchy had simply been too much. The fight had gone out of everyone – herself, included” (261). Fleeing one Sith Lord, a conspiring Krevaaki, into the hands of another, a tall Amazonian named Arkadia, Keera comes to the realization , as does the reader, Sith space is a place to be avoided at all costs. Out of the pan and into the fire, as the old saying goes.

However, the anarchy that is Sith space begins to clear in Arkadia’s lands. It is revealed that the Chagras Hegemony in the Grumani sector, a “cancerous nest of evil” to use the words of the late Master Vannar Treece, is nothing more than a giant feud between 30 or more Sith cousins, all descendants from the same evil grandmother, a powerful Sith named Vilia Calimondra, also known as ‘the dowager’. As Arkadia says to Kerra in their final lightsaber confrontation: “There can only be one Sith Lord” (360), Vilia, Arkadia’s grandmother, knows this all too well, and has pitied her many grandchildren (Odion, Daiman, and Arkadia to name a few) against each other to keep the heat off herself. The Grumani sector is nothing more than feudal lords all competing for land, territory, and resources.

What I enjoyed most about JJM’s exploration of this anarchy is how each Sith Lord’s territory was different. In Daimanate we have a totalitarian government run by a solipsist dictator, its people oppressed into slavery and believing they don’t actually exist – that their reality is entirely dependent on their leader’s interpretation of reality. In the Odionate we have a leader who is the head of a death cult, all of his citizens biting on the chomp to strap on a suicide vest and give their lives in the name of nothingness. In the Dyarchy we are presented with two teenaged children oppressively mind-controlling its entire populace, its citizenry devoid of conscious thought. And finally in the Arkadianate, arguably the best of them all, we have a Sith society devoid of joy and full of confusion and fear, though the people do seem to live better lives than the other Sith citizens from the other sectors. To paraphrase Kerra Holt, there is no place in Sith space that is better than another, just less worse, and ‘less worse’ is not good enough for the seventeen-hundred refugees she carrying with her.

JJM’s exploration of Sith culture also included many references to its own history, all of which add depth and complexity to the mythology of Star Wars. From the mention of Admiral Morivs and Darth Revan, to Darth Ruin-the original Sith Solipsist, to Exar-Kun’s military failure at Toprowa, each of these historical references give the reader the sense of a lived in reality.  What I enjoyed most here was JJM's inclusion of lore he himself established in his KOTOR comic series, and using the creative works of his Star Wars contemporaries' own original contributions (Karpyshyn to name but one). My favorite historical reference was to one of the items located in Arkadia’s museum: “a translator device used by an aid to Chancellor Fillorean during negotiations with the Duinuogwuin” (296). This particular sentence alone made mention to two of my favorite things in Star Wars history: Chancellors and Duinuogwuin. I find the history of Chancellors in Star Wars fascinating, as I have an interest in the lineage and history of large institution’s leaders, namely in the Papacy and American Presidents. I talked a little bit about Chancellor’s in my reactions to Darth Bane: Rule of Two. Even more fascinating than Chancellors however, are Duinuogwins, also known as Star Dragons – a mysterious race with an exceptionally long and mythological past. One of my favorite stories thus far in the Star Wars Chronology Project was The Most Dangerous Foe, which featured a Jedi Duinuogwin. If I ever do get to write my own Star Wars fiction one day Duinuogwin’s will defiantly be a part of it.

Moving on, what I also enjoyed about Knight Errant was Kerra’s growing maturity into her Jedihood, and her realization that the galaxy is a very complicated and dangerous place. One of my co-workers teaches a course on social justice (he also actually enacts social justice as well, he lives what he teaches), and one of the questions he gets all the time is where does one begin to right the wrongs of the world, when there are so many who need help. Poverty is the one that many people, myself included, feel so hopeless in confronting. His response is simple and un-unique – start where you are: volunteer at a local soup kitchen and take it from there. Some people do, but when they do they wonder if their efforts on making things right for only a few is good enough. Kerra Holt arrives at the answer to this at the end of the story: “There were seventeen hundred refugees aboard Diligence relying on her. But that wasn’t a seventeen-millionth of the number who would remain in jeopardy. Was it right for her to focus her efforts on making things perfect for a select few when there was so much more to do? YES.” (323). Kerra comes to the understanding that killing a Sith Lord won’t help the people living subject under him, but that trusting in herself to help those in front of her, and trusting the Force to help those outside her purview until she can get there, is what it means to be a Jedi. Gorlan Palladane knew this, and now so does Kerra.

On a lighter note, the comedic interaction between Jarrow Rusher (who reminds me a lot of Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly) Ryland Dackett, and Beadle Lubbon was well written. Also the dialogue between Rusher and Holt was well done too. Their dialogue was funny, combative, and did a good job developing and flushing out their characters. Beadle Lubbon was by far the most lovable character. My favorite scene with him was his final interaction with the Sith Lord Arkadia: “Arkadia eyed its courier. ‘Why did you walk here? Rusher could have sent you across on the back of one of those trundle cars’. ‘He did ma’am. I fell off’. ‘They move four kilometers an hour!’. ‘Really? The one that hit me felt like it was going faster,’ he said. ‘I think I broke my arm’” (328). I love that he referred to a Sith Lord as “ma’am”, as if he’s about to bag her groceries. Beadle Lubbon is the most heroic bumbler I’ve yet met in the Star Wars universe, and I look forward to coming across him again in the next set of issues.

On that note, I’d love to see the Knight Errant series follow the formula it’s currently set up: a five issue comic arc, then a novel, followed by another five issue comic arc, then another novel. I know it won’t happen like that because such a formula may very well kill JJM, but it’s very good to see a story played out over various mediums. I think comic-books are very limited in how they tell a story so having a full length novel flush out the characters and add depth to the comic pages makes the narrative that much better. Here’s to hoping.

For my next post I’m going to back-track yet again, as part seven of JJM’s Lost Tribe of the Sith series, Pantheon, has recently been released. Also, on a side note I’m very excited to see that Star Wars:The Old Republic is available for pre-order. Anyone reading this blog going to play?

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

1032 BBY: Knight Errant: Aflame

In the universe of Star Wars, a Sith Lord whose claims to be a solipsist makes perfect sense. Not only does it make perfect sense, it’s an outright brilliant premise for a main villain. It’s an idea that is so good, you think to yourself, dang, I wish I would’ve thought of that! JJM strikes again!

The quality of any Good vs. Evil narrative is not found in the hero, but in the villain. It’s the villain who drives the story and tests the excellence of the hero; Theseus has the Minotaur, McMurphy has nurse Ratched, and Luke has Vader. Though Kerra Holt is an interesting hero, the real story of Knight Errant, for me, is Lord Daiman. With that being said though I don’t want to dismiss any discussion of Kerra just yet, she is an interesting heroine in her own right.

Firstly, the obvious comparison to make with Kerra Holt is Zayne Carrick, JJM’s other Jedi protagonist from the KOTOR comic series. I’ve spilt much ink on Zayne in my musing over that particular comic series, suffice it to say, he is one of my favorite Jedi in Star Wars history thus far, the reason being his consistent ethic of life. Zayne lived the Jedi code and never once took a life. It’s a stance I admire and respect because it demonstrates Zayne’s belief in the responsible use of power. He’s a Jedi, not a judge. He’s there to protect those who cannot protect themselves, not kill because it’s convenient. Kerra Holt is the opposite. She has no problem slicing through Sith soldiers, and twice through the narrative went on killing quests to do away with either Daiman or Odion.

Keera is a different type of Jedi because she has to be. As I mentioned in my post on Knight Errant: Influx, it seems here we have a Jedi Order who is highly militarized. They are at war with the Sith, and the drudgery of war has led the Jedi to act in a philosophical manner that is consistent with ‘the ends justify the means’. Vannar Treece’s attack on the Sith ships of Chelloa is an example of this shoot first and ask questions later attitude. Strictly speaking, it seems to me the Jedi in this particular era are not Jedi at all, it’s simply an ancient title they carry to identify themselves to the world around them. What they really are are ‘Warriors of the Force’ – a title I believe is more fitting.

The only Jedi in Knight Errant: Aflame I’ve met so far is Gorlan Palladne, a humanitarian who uses his Force abilities to help the weak and downtrodden. He behaves as I think a Jedi should – to first protect and help those who get trampled by evil (save the 60,000 workers from the Sith), and if the occurrence arises to then face evil head-on, (duel with Odion) and when it does stand firm and strong, and be at peace. Gorlan had many opportunities to strike out at Lord Daiman, but chose not to because he knew killing in cold blood was not the Jedi way. But this did not make him weak, as when the proper time and placed showed itself, he raised his saber against Odion, and fought the Sith Lord head-on.

I say all this not indicate I don’t like Kerra Holt – I do. I like her brashness, her all or nothing philosophy, and her single minded determination. I also love how she messes with Daiman by removing the heads of all his statues as she comes across them.

As it is, what I’ve enjoyed most of Knight Errant: Aflame is Lord Daiman the “creator of the universe” – this guy is intriguing, and far from crazy, as some people have claimed. Firstly, he looks cool: his red cape and gold colored armor give him a kingly quality, yet his different colored eyes are an unsettling feature. My favorite picture of him is found in issue #2 on page 5. But make no mistake, this guy is not crazy: crazy is sitting in the forest naked trying to lather squirrels in ketchup. This guy has come to the only logical conclusion he can see: that he is the creator of the universe, which really, given his position, is a belief that is not as mad as it seems on the surface.

I know I’ve come to wonder and almost give credence to solipsism as well. Tell me you’ve never once thought that your life is really the Truman Show, and all the people in it are, at best, actors in a giant hoax, at worst, all figments of your imagination. Tell me you haven’t once though ‘the only thing I know to exist is my own self, and I have no way of knowing or proving the existence of anyone or anything’. Tell me you’ve never though that all of reality is simply your imagining of reality. Now, if you have thought these thoughts, picture yourself as an immensely powerful Sith Lord, able to manipulate this reality with the use of the Force, with countless worlds under your power, with billions if not trillions of beings as your slaves, and with an endless array of weaponry to use at your disposal, and not latch on to the idea that since you are an immensely powerful being you are the center of all existence, that you’ve actually created all this because you were bored and wanted a challenge. To use Lord Daiman’s own words: “I was bored, and so I created the universe. I have no direct knowledge of the time before time. But I infer that wherever I was, nothing could challenge me. And so I created a new existence. All matter, all energy are manifestations of my undying spirit. But while I gave all beings motion, not all beings serve me. For I also created an opponent – in Odion. He claims he is my older brother – But I, or course, have no kin or kind. He is simply what I must overcome to advance.” (Issue 4, pg. 1). What I love about Daiman is that I can believe a Sith can naturally come to these conclusions. It makes sense.

Lord Daiman is a villain worth getting excited about, plus, he has all the best lines so far. When speaking to Kerra as he was trapped in a stasis field he says to her: “This thing you call reality might well be just a Force vision to test me. I’m not convinced that you exist” (issue #2 pg. 19). If a Sith Lord pulled this on me I think I might enter some existential loop, next thing you know I’m wondering if I’m really who I think I am, then pow! He’s got me! Also, when speaking to one of his lieutenants, he says to him: “Give me that! I can’t trust you nonentities with anything” (issue #5, pg. 10). I love how Daiman has completely committed to the idea that he is the only being in existence. Finally, my other favorite line was when he needed to get off the mountain: “I created this mountain! It will do as I say!”. His lieutenant wryly replies back: “You did – but it’s not listening now!” (Issue #5, pg. 12). I think JJM has struck gold with this villain he has created. Well done.

Before I conclude I want to make a couple more observations, namely on the artwork. For the most part I enjoyed the art, my only complaint being the inconsistent depiction of Odion. In the first issue he seemed to be rather pudgy, which I liked. I thought our introduction to him was rather neat – a fatty Sith Lord with a red monocle. But as the issues went on Odion became more fit and muscular. But even though I enjoyed fat Odion over fit Odion, I think if I had to choose between Dallocchio or Rodriguez I’d go with Rodriguez. His style is more reminiscent of comic art from when I was a kid.

Besides character art, I also enjoyed the presentation of technology from this era, namely the ships. One of the things I most love from this era of Star Wars history is the Fairwind – Farfalla’s flagship from the pages of Jedi vs. Sith. I really liked how Daiman’s ship had that naval galley look to them, like the Fairwind but on a bigger scale. It almost seems like Daiman is what Farfalla would be if he fell to the darkside.

For these reasons, and so many others, I thoroughly enjoyed the first five issues of the Knight Errant comic series and I’m looking forward to reading the next five. But my time with Keera Holt is not at an end. For my next post I’ll be examining the Knight Errant novel , so until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

3645 BBY: Red Harvest

Star Wars and zombies is more of a compatible match than I ever would have thought. Joe Schreiber’s Red Harvest was an absolutely fun read in the horror genre, its Star Warsiness incidental to its plot. With that being said though, I get the impression (impression because this is the first horror novel that I’ve ever read) that its setting in the Star Wars universe makes the events of the plot MORE believable because there is already long established lore and fertile ground set up to allow the rise of zombies to occur in a galaxy far far away.

Following the typical formula of American created horror, the virginal maiden survives while all other less virtuous players are killed by the walking dead. Even though the reader has a fairly good indication of who is going to survive the zombie onslaught, all other characters remain in Schreiber’s cross-hairs as no one is safe from Darth Scaberous’ zombie creation.

There are a bunch of very cool elements going off in this story, the first being the way zombies enter Star Wars lore in the first place. Knowing what we know of the darkside of the Force, it makes perfect sense that a dark lord of the Sith is looking for immortality, and turns to Sith alchemy, sorcery, and magic to do so. I find the magical element of the darkside of the Force fascinating: "He'd once overheard talk in some spaceport about the Sith, how they'd learned to manipulate spatial geometry itself, creating buildings that were, in themselves, detached from physical reality" (24). Very cool stuff indeed.

Darth Scabrous follows in a long line of Sith alchemists, beginning with Ajunta Pall who was one of the dark Jedi banned at the start of the 100 year darkness. He was known to be a practitioner of Sith Alchemy and was probably one of the exiles who transformed creatures into “mutant warriors, mounts, and spirit-devouring leviathans”. As far as I can remember, Ajunta Pall and his ilk were not interested in seeking immortality the way Scabrous was, but that’s not to say their alchemical experiments weren’t heading in that direction anyway. Also, I think as far as chronology goes, Darth Scabrous is the first Dark Lord of the Sith we meet who is explicitly looking for immortality through the use of Sith magics. I believe during this time that the Sith emperor (not referenced in this text) has already found immortality through the essence transfer techniques referenced many millennia later by Darth Bane, but I would also assume that the Sith emperor has not shared his secret with anyone.

As it is, many Sith seem to have immortality as their final objective; however, the means by which they go about achieving it differs. Like I said, the Sith emperor (again, if my assumptions are correct) has already achieved this through essence transfer. Here, in Red Harvest, we have Darth Scabrous looking for immortality through alchemy and potion creation, using force sensitive plants as his x-factor final ingredient. Darth Bane sought immortality through the essence transfer ability and cloning (albeit unsuccessfully), while Darth Sidious was successful with Bane’s failed techniques (I think – I have yet to get there).

The second element of this story I found very cool, which ties in to the first, is the Force sensitive Black Orchid sought by Scabrous for his evil concoction. I thought it very neat that we are introduced to a self-aware Force sensitive plant with a high midichlorian count. Like the Dark Lord’s quest for immortality, the inclusion of this particular element is not foreign to Star Wars lore. Remembering back to the text The Jedi Path, there is reference in that book to force-wielding animals (pg. 90). Some are referenced as either being able to handle the force, commune through the Force, or nullify the force. The logic then follows, if not animal life then why not plant life? The answer is simple: of course plant life is part of the Force, and yes, the Force could affect planet-life to self-awareness. What is more, there is an increasing amount of research being done in the field of emotions and plants in our world. Some scientists are arguing that plants have feelings, and can communicate simple emotional states. See an article here for what I’m talking about. The Black Orchid is a new and exciting element of the Star Wars story, one which can take the narrative of a Jedi in the Agricultural Corps in exciting new directions.

Following this train of thought, the third element of this story I enjoyed was the inclusion of a Jedi from the Agri-Corps as the hero of the tale. Hestizo Trace, a simple Jedi botanist and the virtuous virgin I made reference to in my opening paragraph is not your typical chivalrous Jedi bounding into action. That role is reserved for her brother, Rojo Trace. Her expertise is in the field of botany which she uses to her great advantage. I wonder if we’ll see her again. But like I said, with Red Harvest, Schreiber has given others a way to write about Agri-Corps Jedi. Maybe the story of other Jedi will be told, those in the Explorer-Corps for example?

Besides these three elements, I found others aspects of the story interesting as well. One of the things I love about going through the story of Star Wars in such a dogmatic fashion is coming across rarely used alien species. In this case it was the Neti librarian. The Neti remind me of the Ents from Lord of the Rings: ancient and giant trees that carry with them the wisdom of the universe. I think so far in Star Wars chronology we’ve only come across two Neti so far, Ood Bnar from Tales of the Jedi, and Dail’Liss, whose name means ‘lover of knowledge’ in his native tongue.

In that Lord of the Rings vein, Darth Scabrous’s tower and lair reminded me of Saruman’s tower and lair: dark, foreboding, and filled with all kinds of ancient and evil arcane just waiting to be unleashed. A few years ago there was a Lord of the Rings exhibition that came through town, and I enjoyed it so much I went twice. The aspect of the exhibit which stuck with me most was Saruman’s lair. It was awesome – black walls, unknown creatures in jars, candles everywhere. Saurman’s lab was one of the most vibrant memories I have of the LOTR exhibit. Reading about Scaberous lair brought to mind my walk through of Middle Earth those many years ago.

The last element I was to address before I talk about two of my problems with the text was the mention of a cloaking device: “‘Our sensors recorded the arrival and departure of an unlicensed ship early this morning.’ Emmert glanced away, abashed. ‘It must have come in under some kind of cloaking device and managed to evade our detection…’” (67). I think this is the second time I’ve come across a cloaking device on a smaller private ship. The first was in the Jedi Apprentice series, The Dark Rival, when the cloaking device on a freighter was sabotaged by Xanatos. In Red Harvest, the Whipid bounty hunter Tulkh has also managed to acquire one for his vessel. Interesting. I’m defiantly going to integrate this knowledge into my own Star Wars RPG campaign for next year.

Coming to the end of my reactions, I only really had one small problem with the story, and it was the inclusion of the word “newbie”: “‘You look good lying there on the floor, newbie,” T’sank leered at him.” (14). What grates me about this particular world is that ‘newbie’ is an American colloquialism brought into common usage with the arrival of the internet. I don’t like it when a contemporary colloquialism or turn of phrase makes its way into the Star Wars universe. I feel an author writing Star Wars should rise above such usages, and separate themselves from their contemporary culture when creating language in a different universe. But I think I’m being overly nit-picky here.

Lastly, I have a question about the events of the book which I’m not sure I understand. Throughout the story, the characters were “killing” the Sith zombies by cutting off their heads or destroying their brains, which is how one kills a zombie. But in one particular scene, when Scopique encountered zombie Jura, he beheaded the creature, yet it still came at him: “Thumping noises from below: the headless monstrosity was still moving. In fact, it was leaning forward, groping around the floor until it found its severed head…Scopique saw the decapitated corpse of Jura Ostrogoth haul back and fling its own head straight at him, its mouth still wide open.” (103-104). Have I mis-read events here, or weren’t the zombies killed once their heads were detached? Please clarify my understanding here.

Before I sign off I have a couple of requests. Does anyone here have a copy of Challenge #58: The Battle for Mandalore, which is at 35-33 BBY in Joe’s timeline, or a copy of The Starfighter Trap, parts 1, 2, and 3 from Star Wars Gamer #1? I’ll need these soon. If you do, drop me a line at the forums at my handle there is Iscariot. Or post a link in the comments below.

For my next post I’m going to jump ahead a few thousand years in Star Wars history to 1032 BBY and engage with Knight Errant: Aflame. Until them my friends, may the Force be with you.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

3653 BBY: Deceived

It seems Darth Malgus stepped out from his cage.

I’ll begin with the end: “Seeing him there, hanging, near death, Malgus thought of Eleena, of Adraas’s description of her. He released Adraas from the clutch of his Force choke. Adraas hit the ground on his back, gasping. Malgus had a knee on his chest and both his hands on his throat before Adraas could recover. He would kill Adraas with his bare hands…Adraas’s trachea collapsed in Malgus’s grip. There was no final cough or gag. Adraas died in silence. Malgus rose and stood over Adraas’s body. He pulled on his gloves, adjusted his armor, his cloak, and walked out of the manse” (248-249).

This penultimate scene is monstrously brilliant. Forgoing the use of his Force abilities, Malgus chose to do his murdering with his own hands, and like the killer he is, made sure the flesh of his hands touched the flesh of his rival’s throat, and squeezed the life out of Adraas’s body himself.

In The Third Lesson, Malgus’s father (we learn from Deceived that it was an adoptive father) revealed for the young Force sensitive neophyte an empty cage among his collection of caged animals. This was the father’s thirds lesson to the boy. He will be caged, of that there was no doubt: caged by the Emperor and used by him to meet his own needs. The challenge posed by his father, and the lesson to the young boy contained in the empty cage, was a question: will Malgus have the strength to break out from the Empire’s cage and forge his own path? It seems that he did, and his murder of Adraas, his rival in the Sith political system, and the favorite of Lord Angral, was Malgus’s breaking of the lock. Malgus has one Master now, and it is no longer the Empire, but the Force.

Paul S. Kemp’s novel, Deceived, was a great read. However, it took me two days to get through it as I listened to the audio book as I read along with its print counterpart. I borrowed both from the library (God bless the library system) and copied the audiobook to my hard-drive and saved it to my iPod. I thought that doing it this way would help me get through the book a little quicker, but it didn’t. It seems I’m a faster reader than I thought. As my old Star Wars GM used to say I have 10D to my reading skill. With that being said though I’m glad I listened to the audiobook because the sounds effects were awesome, and the voice acting by Marc Thompson was mostly well done, my only criticism being his portrayal of Master Dar’nala who sounded like an old man and not a vibrant Togruta female. The sounds effects of the first chapter, Zeerid’s encounter with the pirates, is what I remember most. The wind whipping in the background, the sound of the ships engines, and the blaster shots being fired all gave a cinematic quality to my reading.

I have Red Harvest saved on my iPod as well, and I’m debating on doing it this way again. I think I might for the first few chapters to get a sense of the voice acting, and then simply finish the book on my own.

For my reactions to Deceived I’m going to center my thoughts on two of its main characters: Darth Malgus, and Aryn Leener.

Firstly, Darth Malgus is one of the most sympathetic evil characters I’ve come across in the story of Star Wars so far. Why do I find myself admiring this killer of women and children? I like Darth Malgus because he has a singular purpose in his life: to burn Coruscant to the ground. Though I don’t like his goal, I do admire is single-minded determination.

One of the opening scenes of the book, which narrates in print form the events of the cinematic Deceived, provide for Star Wars fans a more layered understanding of the historic events of that day. What I thought particularly amusing was the conversation between Maglus and Eleena as they approached the temple, planning death and destruction. Walking their way towards the Republic guards in order to kill them, Eleena wants Malgus to define their relationship more clearly: “’Constant war will be your life? Our life? Nothing more?’” (16). Malgus clarifies his relationship with the woman: that of master and slave, but Eleena knows there is more there. I could almost imagine Malgus thinking ‘Now woman!?!, Now you want to have this conversation!?! When I’m just about to realize my dream of destroying the center of the Republic you want me to tell you I love you!?! What the hell!?! Watching the cinematic, as the Dark Lord and his companion walk into the heart of Jedi culture, I wouldn’t have imagined that they would be trying to work out their relationship problems. Not even a Dark Lord of the Sith can keep his women from asking an inappropriate question at an inappropriate time. Very amusing.

What wasn’t amusing was the eerie similarities the Sith’s attack on the Republic had with the attack on America on September 11th 2001. Right before the jump ship slammed into the Jedi Temple, Malgus’s thoughts mirrored what I think the terrorist of 9/11 may have been thinking that day: “No alarm had sounded. Military and security ships were not racing through the sky. The civilian and military authorities were oblivious to the fact that Coruscant’s security net had been compromised” (17). There is a sense here that Malgus almost can’t believe he is about to get away with his assault, a feeling that I imagine was probably shared by the terrorists that fateful day in American history.

Continuing with my reactions, like Malgus, I too was at a loss as to why the Emperor didn’t simply destroy Coruscant when he had the chance: “He did not understand the Emperor’s thinking, for it must have been the Emperor who had decided to spare Coruscant. Nothing was as it should be. Malgus had intended, had expected, to turn Coruscant into a cinder” (70). Even though such a maneuver did give the Empire the upper hand in negotiations, we know from our history by professor Gnost-Dural that the emperor had expected his domination of the galaxy to come quickly, and the fact that the war had dragged out over decades was testimony to the fighting prowess of the Republic. It wasn’t the paper-tiger the emperor thought it to be. Though I see Malgus’s perspective as a Sith juggernaut, it was painfully obvious through the course of the text that Malgus dismissed politics as a tool of war. Much to his disadvantage it seems.

My last thought concerning Malgus has to do with his own musings about his past at the Sith Academy on Drummond Kaas. Malgus came to realize through his attack on Coruscant that he and the emperor had divergent philosophies on the role of the Empire in existence. It is Malgus’s contention that the Empire is a tool of the Force, its purpose to bring destruction and conflict because it is only through destruction and conflict that real growth can be made. Like a wild fire taking out an old forest, Malgus believed that the Empire, at the behest of the darkside of the Force, was a tool for renewal: “It was said that the ancient Sith of Korriban purged their bodies with fire, learned strength through pain, encouraged growth through destruction. There was wisdom in that, Malgus thought. Sometimes a thing could not be fixed. Instead, it had to be destroyed and remade” (177). Like Anakin Skywalker was destroyed and remade into Darth Vader, the wild fire that was Palpatine cleansed Anakin of his weaker parts and made him stronger. Destroyed and remade.

Paul S. Kemp brought a new perspective to the darkside of the Force through the character of Darth Malgus, which is not an easy thing to do in such an established world. Fortunately, he did the same with his character of Aryn Leener, a Jedi nearly lost to pain and vengeance.

Though I don ‘t think Aryn Leener is nearly as interesting as Darth Malgus, she did participate in some of my favorite scenes throughout the story. One of her scenes reminded me of a bit of scripture I love from Psalms: “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22). Whenever I feel too burdened by negativity or anxiety I offer it up to God. I simply say ‘I cannot carry this anymore, so I give it to you, so you may carry it for me’. It’s a realization of my own weakness, and realization that my strength can only be found in God. Aryn Leener has a similar relationship with the Force: “Focusing inward, she picked a point in her mind, made it a hole, and let her unease drain into it. Calm settled on her” (22). She gave her unease to the Force, as I give my unease to God.

Yet with all that being said, I still find it remarkable at how many Jedi have trouble actually practicing this calm-centeredness, as more often than not when a Jedi has experienced loss, they almost never fall to a compassionate non-attached disposition, but cling to notions of revenge. I get why this is. A character that takes on a compassionate non-attached disposition to their best friend’s death is regarded by most readers as a callous jerk, when in fact we should be thinking, ‘ahh that dude gets it!’. The problem is most people in the world either don’t want to be compassionately non-attached, or don’t get it, so when a Jedi’s Master dies, we expect that Jedi to seek revenge (Aryn Leener, Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin Skywalker) because it’s something we can identify with. Even though Jedi have had it drilled into their head at the temple from day one that they must reflect and ponder and come to an very deep understanding of what it truly means to be non-attached to the material of the world, many, remarkably, still don’t get it. (I think I’m ranting so I’m going to stop now). Aryn Leener’s immediate jump to revenge bothered me, evidently.

Moving along, my third favorite scene in the book was the stand-off between Aryn and the Sith outside of the negotiation room on Alderaan (the first being the scene I addressed at the start of this post): “Using the Force, she jerked the male’s hilt from his hand and brought it flying into her own grasp. Then she tossed it aside, and his sneer melted in the heat of his surprise” (39). What would have made this scene better, is if Aryn, after ripping the lightsaber from the Sith’s hand with the force, did not simply toss the saber away, only to have it retrieved again in a few moments, but instead ignited her own lightsaber, and chopped the Sith’s lightsaber in half the way one would slice a cucumber with a Ginsu. That would have been epic.

Since I’m talking about favorite scenes, and I’ve already addressed my first and third favorite scenes, I may as well talk about my second favorite scene in the book, which was Aryn and Zeerid’s escape from Fatman as it tumbled through Coruscant’s atmosphere: “She used her blade to cut a door out of the canopy. The thin air whipped by, whistling…She did not hesitate, She sank into the Force, cocooned them both in a protective sheath, and leapt out of the ship into the open air” (159-160). Now that’s an escape! The two plummeted fifty kilometers to the planet’s surface, while Aryn used the Force to slow their decent and land relatively safely. The way Kemp described Aryn cocooning them like a balloon about to pop was excellent. Kemp’s description here brought the scene to life.

All-in-all I thoroughly enjoyed Deceived. I’m glad it wasn’t simply a re-write of Threat of Peace, but after reading the scenes in this book which overlapped the graphic novel by Rob Chestney, I stand by my original claims that the story of Threat of Peace was too large to be contained within the pages of a comic book. That particular story needed its own telling in novelization form. The comic medium did not do Threat of Peace justice.

For my next post I’ll be moving ahead eight years in Old Republic history to my next source of examination: Red Harvest. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Circa 3660 BBY - 3655 BBY: The Third Lesson

The Third Lesson by Paul S. Kemp kicked off Star Wars Insider magazine’s foray into printing pieces of short fiction. It’s about time a Star Wars publication started this again. The only thing missing from the story were the RPG stats of Malgus and the two Jedi he fought, preferably in D6 figures.

I bought Star Wars Insider #86 back in 2006 because it had a story about Mandalorian clans, but otherwise the magazine never really held my interest. It seemed there was nothing in it that I couldn’t find out online. I don’t remember fiction ever being a part of it, but now that it is I’ve picked up a digital subscription from I can bet you dollars to doughnuts that since the inclusion of short stories Star Wars Insider’s sales have increased. This new inclusion of fiction could be a result of Hyperspace being closed. Has Hyperspace been shut down for good, does anyone know anything about that?

I’ve been saying it for a while now, but the Star Wars short story medium is an economically viable endeavor, and I think someone is starting to get it. Maybe if Star Wars Insider’s sales increase post issue 124, we’ll see the return of the Adventure Journal, this time headed by the new company that has bought the RPG license. The rumor there is that the license has been purchased by Fantasy Flight Games (just a rumor mind you). I don’t know much about them, but if this is true it’s very exciting. Does anyone reading this know what system FFG uses? Is it D20, D6, or something else entirely?

As it is, The Third Lesson was the first time I’ve come across Kemp’s work, and I enjoyed it. Taking place immediately after the events of Hope, The Third Lesson tells the story of the Darth Malgus’ relationship with his father, an avenue that is not usually explored when it comes to Sith Lords and their backstories.

What I thought most interesting about this story were the implications of Malgus’ father/son relationship and its connotations for the Sith Empire as a whole. Here, a caring relationship is explored. Veradun (Malgus’ childhood name) obviously had a father who cared about him: “’The instructors tell me they’ve seen few with your potential in the Force’. ‘I’m honored by their praise’. His father smiled distantly. ‘A shuttle arrives for you tomorrow, to take you to the academy on Dromund Kaas. I want you to know that I’m proud of you. Always remember that’. ‘I will. And I am doubly honored by your praise father’. His father kneeled, embraced him, stood, and walked away’ (SWI, 124 pg 48). From this passage I come to understand that the Sith Empire is not evil for the sake of being evil, and transforms it into a entirely more complicated creature. It’s important for the readers of fiction to understand (and by readers of fiction I also mean players of this MMO) that the evil characters they are reading about don’t consider themselves evil. In fact, what makes them interesting is that they actually believe they are doing the right thing. There are very few well written characters that I can think of who can pull off the ‘evil for the sake of being evil’ bit, and the first to come to mind is Iago from Othello, and one can still make a strong argument that he believes what he is doing is good. My point is this: by exploring Malgus’ relationship with his father as a child, he is no longer a one-dimensional character. All of a sudden because he has a father who loved him, we instinctively react in a way that is sympathetic. We think ‘if his father loved him, he can’t be all bad’. Even though I’m rooting for the Jedi, I’ve found myself caring about Malgus’ fate, and wondering things like ‘is his father still proud of him’?

Continuing with this theme, Malgus’ father is a highly intriguing character. A biologist with the Imperial Science Corps, Malgus’ father collected animals from countless world and housed them in a private zoo financed by the Empire. This is all we are told, and our imaginations fill in the blanks. Does he run experiments on the animals, looking to unlock a secret that will give the Imperial’s military forces an edge over the Republic? Or are his motives more benevolent, hoping to find cures for diseases? I get the impression the reason he has his own personal zoo is for the former. I’m not left with the impression that his motives are benevolent, considering the type of animals he keeps: vicious creatures with a penchant for violence.

I also though his characterization quite interesting as well: “The creases on his father’s Imperial uniform looked sharp enough to cut meat, but his tone was as soft as the belly that overflowed his trousers” (SWI 124 pg 45). There is a lot going on here, the image of “cut meat” implies that Malgus’ father is not particularly kind to the animals he keeps, yet there is a softness to him, as implied by his stomach, but more importantly his voice. I don’t get the impression that Malgus’ father was abusive in any way, not like Darth Bane’s father was, yet there is a menace about him. He’s seems like an intellectual man who is to be feared, and respected, and then loved.

Moving along in the plot, Malgus’ fight with the Jedi was very cool. We see the animal that is Malgus come alive, and then reined in by Malgus the man. Having trouble breathing from his recent grenade to the face, Malgus still manages to pull a Jedi out of hiding and break his neck using the force, and then uses his force-lighting on the other to kill him. I enjoyed Malgus’ begrudging respect for the Jedi who tried to absorb his attack, but who ultimately fell short to the monster’s onslaught.

Kemp did well weaving these two narratives together. The way Malgus’ father’s departed his lessons about the ruthlessness of nature and animals to his son, and the way Malgus recalled these lessons to help him defeat the Jedi was an excellent way to connect for the reader how the character’s past has shaped his present. But I can’t help but detect a sense of irony and loss when Malgus’ father revealed for the boy the third lesson: an empty cage. I took it to mean that Malgus’ father knew what his son would become after his time spent at the Academy on Dromund Kaas: a ruthless animal for the Empire. “You might as well step inside your cage, son” is what Malgus’ father seems to be saying to the boy.

For my next post I’ll examine Kemp’s full narrative of Malgus with his novel Deceived. I have yet to start it so it may be a day or two for me to get through it. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Circa 3660 BBY - 3655 BBY: Hope

In my last post on Return, I talked about how I’d love to see Star Wars movies and television shows shift almost exclusively to the animated medium. I began thinking about when Star Wars first became animated, and surprisingly I had to remember all the way back to 1978 and the Star Wars Holiday Special. Without a doubt the best part of the Holiday Special was the introduction of Boba Fett into the Star Wars Mythos. Eight years later came the Ewoks and Droids cartoon series, which in 1986 appeared for an hour on Saturday afternoons. The largest gap in Star Wars animation happens between this series and the next: The first Clone Wars series produced in 2003 came 17 years later. After this of course was the second series of Clone Wars cartoons which premiered with a movie in 2008, and Star Wars animation has not stopped since.

Bioware and Blur’s video game cinematics for the Star Wars Old Republic MMO are a continuation of the Star Wars animated legacy started way back in ’78, and it’s a continuation I think should become the dominant manner in which Star Wars stories should be told. Animation is where Star Wars belongs, and it’s here that Star Wars can grow with almost no limitations.

Hope, the second video game cinematic released by Bioware last year, exemplifies the best of what Star Wars animation can be (along with the other two cinematics: Return and Deceived). There is more Star Wars in these three cemimatics than all of Episode 1 and 2 combined. Seeing what these two companies have done with the Star Wars title excites me to the possibilities of the future. Star Wars doesn’t need expensive wooden sets and highly paid flesh and blood actors upon a screen; it can do very well for itself if it explores the animated medium to its fullest.

If Lucas wants to do something new with his Star Wars making, why not make a 3D movie using Blur studios’ animation set in the time of The Old Republic, or The Tales of the Jedi, or far ahead into the Legacy Era, or whenever? I can only speak for myself, but as a fan this is what I’d pay money to see. I’d even pay money to see both trilogies rebooted into The Clone Wars style of animation; that would be awesome.

But getting back to the topic at hand: the cinematic Hope. Taking place sometime between ten or twenty-eight years after Return, the developers at Bioware have yet to elucidate when exactly this events occurred. We know that the Battle of Bothuwi occurred at 3671 BBY because Master Gnost-Dural called this the Republic’s first victory over the Sith Empire before the Treaty of Coruscant. Lugija further narrows down the date between 3660 BBY and 3653 BBY (Treaty of Coruscant) and states: “During that time the Empire got itself near the Core worlds, but had taken almost every territory it could, and its attacks were more desperate than before and ended up to be stalemates. Alderaan is a coreworld, and would have been one of the last of these targets.” If I were to hazard a guess I’d place the date of Hope at about 3655 BBY, two years before the Treaty of Coruscant.

Now that we’ve somewhat nailed down the date, we can look at the implications of time’s passage on the two main characters involved: Darth Malgus and Satele Shan. No longer fresh-faced youths, in the cinematic Hope, Malgus’ face is older and ravaged by the darkside, while Satele Shan is dramatically more confidant in her own abilities. If 26 years have indeed pasted, it appears as though Darth Malgus has spent his time becoming more powerful, and so has Shan. In a confrontation of Epic proportions, these two titans of the Force face off in a duel to the death.

My first favorite moments in this cinematic is when Malgus attempts to plunge his saber into Shan, whereby she absorbs his saber in her hand, and Malgus is rewarded with a grenade to the face courtesy of the Republic Trooper from the Return trailer. My second favorite moment is when Shan, mustering all her strength in the Force, attempts to bury the Sith juggernaut into a mountain, and pulls off a maneuver worthy of Ken and Ryu from street fighter and hiyukans the Sith Lord, subduing the evil monster of the Force. Thankfully, this is not the last we see of the Sith titan. The trailer ends with the Republic military falling from hyperspace and converging on Alderaan, sending the Empire into retreat.

For my next post I’m going to look at Paul Kemp’s short story, The Third Lesson, which picks up just after the events of Hope. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

3681 BBY: Return

Because I’ve dealt with the Old Republic material in such a dis-jointed manner I’m finding it difficult to maintain a clear chronological line of historic events.

I think for my own sense of clarity I need to go over the dates of what we already know up to 3681 BBY. Starting with 5000 BBY, we know the surviving Sith on Korriban left the system after the Republic’s massacre of their people and destruction of their home world. The next time we hear about this particular group of Sith, it is 96 years later. It’s made clear to us by Master Gnost-Dural that any Sith during this 96 year gap threatening the Republic were “Fallen Jedi” and not “True Sith”. Also, it seems that Naga Sadow is now with this group of Sith, and no longer on Yavin 4. During this time the Sith were rebuilding on Drummond Kass and constructing their armada. We don’t know if Sadow has left Yavin 4 permanently at this point, or if he’s still using it as a base of operations. From there we move an additional 338 years into the future, and learn about the events of Eison Gynt and Master Baril Ovair. From the Republic’s perspective at this point, the Sith are still extinct, minus the “fallen Jedi” they are fighting. It is during this time the Sith empire infiltrates the Republic. It isn’t until the year 3681 that the Sith return in their full might. So, counting from their flight from Korriban to their return to Korriban a full 1319 have past. And all this time it has been, presumably, the same emperor leading them (tell me he’s not using essences transfer).

Now that I’ve cleared up that timeline for myself, I feel I can move on (and please, correct me if I’ve missed anything or have interpreted events incorrectly).

The cinematic Return brings to life the events of Master Gnost-Dural’s re-telling of the Sith Empire’s first onslaught on the Republic military (timeline #6). And what an onslaught!

Return is awesome. It’s beautiful, it’s visceral, and it crams so much story in the space of 6 minutes. I’m not sure what else to say about this piece of cinematic, except to ask the question so many TOR fans have asked already: why hasn’t Bioware and Blur made a feature length movie about The Old Republic? DigitalMaster, a poster at the swtor forums recently wrote an article over at Fragworld asking this very question. You can find his thoughts here. The three cinematic trailers released so far: Return, Hope, and Deceived, are by far the best Star Wars visual storytelling I’ve seen since the Prequels (The Clone Wars is a close second though). A feature length movie would be truly awesome.

I don’t know why Lucasfilm hasn’t decided to go completely CG for its movies. I believe the animated CG medium is the true home of Star Wars and where it should remain. I also don’t know why he’s trying to re-re-release all 6 movies in 3D. The speculation is he’s trying to raise funds through their re-re-release in order to begin production on his live-action TV series. Apparently for that endeavor he has 50 episodes ready to go, but I don’t know why he doesn’t simply make the series using all the CG infrastructure and talent he’s currently using for The Clone Wars and film it in The Clone Wars style of animation. Or, as was discussed by DigitalMaster, ponder why Lucasfilm is not turning to Blur studios and Bioware to make the new TV series. I really don’ think shooting it with live actors rather than voice actors and animation could be more profitable. What is more, it has to be prohibitively more expensive to shoot a live action series as opposed to an animation series. I know nothing of making films either live action or animated, so I may be wrong, but it seems to me the animated option is cheaper and less restrictive.

Personally, I’m really not that excited about the prospect of Star Wars being in 3D. I have nothing against the 3D technology; I thought Avatar was an awesome film, not only because of its visual effects, but also because of its story. Yes, Cameron simply transplanted Pocahontas into his movie, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The story of Pocahontas works. It has characters an audience is interested in and care about, and story and characters are THE MOST important thing when telling a story.

Like I said in my last post, A New Hope is simply the Hero’s Journey retold, and West Side Story is simply a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, which itself is a re-telling of Pyramus and Thisbe. We love these films because we love that story. There is nothing wrong with re-telling the hero’s journey again and again and again. As a species we’ve been doing it for literally thousands of years. My point is this: why not make new Star Wars stories, outside of the saga of Anakin Skywalker, done in a CG format? Which CG format is still up for debate. If Lucas is going to reboot all six films I’d love to see them all done in The Clone Wars style of animation or in a manner like Beowulf ( which is the style Blur studios and Bioware most closely emulates), not in 3D. Ok, enough about me blathering on about how Star Wars should exclusively go to CG animation.

The medium of Return is fantastic, and so is the new and exciting Star Wars characters presented for fans to enjoy. The most notable of which is Darth Malgus, who is the focus of the upcoming novel I’ll be looking at shortly: Deceived. But he’s not alone, we meet for the first time (from a chronological perspective) Satele Shan and her Master (whose name I don’t know), Darth Malgus’ Master, an un-named smuggler, and a Republic Trooper. The smuggler’s duel-wielding pistol scene was awesome. Each class of character looks unique, cool, and iconic, and the fight scene between the four force users was visually stunning.

What excited me most about Return was Darth Malgus. Watching his cold blooded murder of his Master has got me looking forward to exploring this character’s progression through the narrative. I’m also interested in watching Satele Shan grow from a capable padawan in this film (I presume she’s a padawan, she may not be), to the Grand Master of the Jedi Order we find in Fatal Alliance.

For my next post I’m going to look at Bioware’s second cinematic titled Hope. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.