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.


  1. A day or two? Wow, you read a lot more quickly than I do. Also, you said this is the first time you've read Kemp's work, but didn't you read the "past" parts of Crosscurrent?
    About Insider, it actually used to have original fiction (short stories, in-universe documents, OOU articles like "The History of the Mandalorians") almost every issue, but when Titan took over the mag, they limited it to the anemic drivel that's characterized the mag for the last few years.

  2. Nutty, it’s gotten to the point where I can't remember who I've read or who I haven't. Yeah, I now remember Kemp's work in Crosscurrent.

    I hope Insider continues to print short fiction; I've always been a fan for the short story.

    It might take me more than a few days to get though Deceived. I'm listening to it on tape while I'm reading along and I find that it's slowing me down, as of right now I’m on page 50. But the voice acting and sound effects are worth the slower pace.