Tuesday, August 30, 2011

33 BBY: Prelude to Rebellion

The Rise of the Sith Omnibus is a Star Wars text that has yet to disappoint me. Every story I’ve read has been highly enjoyable, and if you, my reader, have ever considered buying this comic collection but have hesitated because if its price fear not, it’s a book that is worth the price of admission.

Like all the other stories contained in this Omnibus, Prelude to Rebellion, a story with Ki-Adi-mundi as the protagonist, does not disappoint.

What I found to be the most interesting aspect of this story was Ki-Adi-Mundi himself, and the fact that he has multiple hot wives. Who knew Ki-Adi-Mundi was a polygamist, and has a harem of super-hot Cerean wives that walk around in lingerie at home? Holy Crap! A little known fact of Cereans is that the men age faster than the women, and therefore there are fewer males than females. On Cerea Polygamous marriages are a necessity in order for the species to survive, and each male usually has one primary "bond-wife", and between four to ten "honor-wives". Ki-Adi-Mundi is therefore exempt from the Jedi vows of celibacy (and how!). One might think this is a great set-up, but I felt sorry for Ki-Adi. There’s this great scene at the start of the story where his bond-wife is busting his chops for not having enough sex with her, and that’s why she’s not pregnant: “ ‘I have to go look for Sylvn, but when I get back, we’ll talk about it.’ ‘Talking isn’t the problem! We do plenty of talking’ (Ki-Adi’s wife slams the bedroom door in his face) ‘Then what?’ ‘If you can’t figure it out, ask your Jedi Master!’” My heart broke for him in this scene. All of a sudden one wife seems like plenty enough. Still, he might have it good. He gets to return to Cerea from Coruscant, engage in marital relations with his harem, to which afterwards he can easily declare “Ah yeah, I gotta go, Master Yoda is paging me (checks a beeper that’s not there)….official Jedi business and whatnot….see you all in a few months”, and then he boards the next star freighter for the core worlds. Man that’s funny in my head.

All kidding aside, this was a great story where Ki-Adi-Mundi operates in most of the narrative without his lightsaber. I’m always impressed by a Jedi who does not need to rely on their lightsaber to solve their problems. Plus, there is this great brawling scene where Ki-Adi gets to kick some serious butt.

Besides being an overall great backstory to Ki-Adi before he was elected to a seat on the Jedi Council after Micah Giiet’s death, I thought Ki-Adi’s all droid starship crew was really was humorous as well. I was most impressed with FLTCH-R1, a merc droid originally sent to kill Ki-Adi, but was later reprogrammed to assist the Jedi in his mission to find Ephant Mon. My immediate reaction after coming across this droid was the thought that this was the type of droid the Trade Federation should have been building as part of its militarization. I always wondered why the Trade Federation even bothered with those B1 battle droids. Granted, in large numbers they’re not completely useless, but at the rate they got cut down by the Republic later on during the Clone Wars, at some point someone had to consider to stop making them and focus exclusively on commando droids. Surely commando droid’s cost could have been reduced if made in large quantities.

Notably, this is the first time Ephant Mon enters Star Wars history, and I think this is the first time Jabba the Hutt enters Star Wars history as well. Both are characters worth mentioning.

For my next post I’m going to have to backtrack all the way to 88-67 BBY. I totally forgot to look at Vow of Justice. I’m not sure how I missed that. Anyway, until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

33 BBY: Jedi Council: Acts of War

Jedi Council: Acts of War is a great four part comic series written by Randy Stradley, a writer and editor at Darkhorse comics. The story was a fun adventure featuring most the Jedi Council getting off their chamber chairs and entering into the wild uncertainty of the galaxy. What made this comic entertaining was its focus on the Jedi Council, all of them entering “aggressive negotiations” as a collective and not simply sitting in a room discussing ideas and possible futures. The Yinghorri were enough of a threat that the Council did not simply send two Jedi to deal with the problem (as Mace Windu unwisely did), but realized that the Yinghorri invasion of Mayvitch 7 was something they all had to deal with.

I only have a couple of thoughts on this comic, the first being on Yaddle and Yoda, and the second highlighting my favorite Star Wars character: Darth Sidious.

There were two moments in this story when both Yaddle and Yoda directly chastise members of the Jedi Council – moments which I thought were rather fun. The first chastisement comes from Yaddle, to Mace Windu no less. Upset that Mace Windu sent two Jedi into harm’s way without first consulting the council for its wisdom, Yaddle lets Windu know he may have acted rashly: “Within your rights, you were, Mace Windu, to send Jedi into danger without consulting the rest of the council. But had you done so, greater insight into the problem you might have obtained”. What Yaddle is really attempting to tell Windu here is that she knew a few things about the Yinghorri – insights she learned from spending time in the Jedi archives studying the journals of an old Jedi named Tharence Wo. Had Mace made his intentions to the Council known, he would have learned from Yaddle that the Yinghorri are immune to mind manipulation – information which turned out to be potentially lifesaving to the two Jedi on the mission. I liked Yaddle’s rebuke of Windu because I don’t think I’m a fan of Mace – mostly because he so failed the Jedi Order in ROTS – but besides that he’s simply not my kind of Jedi. He’s too quick to pull his saber, and too sure of his decisions. But then again, that’s what makes him an interesting character – his hubris.

Reprimanding members of the Order was not limited to Yaddle however. In a powerful display of force, Yoda chastised Soon Bayts for attempting to block a blaster bolt for him. Though I got a kick out of Yoda’s sever dealing with Bayts and his “emotional display”, the real story of this character can be found in the Behind the Scenes write-up at wookieepedia. Hoping to get the word “Masturbates” into the narrative, Soon Bayts was Stradley’s joke on Sue Rostini – the comic editor at Lucas Licensing. It was Stradley’s hope she would place the word ‘Master’ before his name. Comical I guess.

Still, what I find to be the real story of this narrative is Darth Sidious and his ability to manipulate events to his master plan. What I love about Darth Sidious is his uncanny ability to twist any negative that may thwart his plans into a positive for his own grand vision of the universe. In Acts of War we see Sidious’ manipulation first hand – pitting two threats – one real and while the other only existed as a possible threat – against each other for his gain. The Jedi subdued the Yinghorri while in the process Jedi were killed. It was a win-win consequence for Sidious.

What I love about Darth Sidious is that not only does he accept uncertainty, but he thrives on it making all that is uncertain work for him. It’s a truly incredible ability. There was a line in Saboteur I wanted to mention in regards to this. When delivering some Sith wisdom to his apprentice Darth Maul, Sidious said: “…But there is also the unforeseen. The power of the darkside is limitless, but only those who accept uncertainty. The means being able to concede to possibilities”. I think this line holds the key to understanding Windu’s and Palpatine’s final confrontation in ROTS. When Windu entered to arrest the Chancellor, Palpatine had already won, not because it was fate, or because he has so puppeteered events to this conclusion (and if you think this it robs the scene of all its Tragedy), but because after their sabers clashed the following moments were ABSOLUTLY UNCERTAIN. Palpatine orchestrated his rise on uncertainty – he was simply able to adjust to uncertainty, and work it to his advantage, quicker than anyone else in the room. Make no mistake – Windu defeated Sidious in their lightsaber duel – Sidious did not let him win, and it wasn’t like Sidious didn’t want to kill Windu when they fought. But what Windu and the Jedi weren’t able to cope with was Sidious’ ability to “accept uncertainty”. If Sidious defeated Windu and killed him he could still turn to Anakin and claim the Jedi have no moral code – “Look” Palpatine could claim as he turns to Anakin “Where was Windu’s Jedi teaching when he was trying to kill me? They’re all corrupt Anakin – they have all lied to you! I offer you the truth the Jedi don’t want you to know…the power of the darkside…its ability to help those you love, even save them from death”… and Anakin turns. Or, Sidious is defeated by Windu, and falls to a position of genuine weakness (this is why this scene is so good, because it is here the good guys do have an actual chance to win!); he is still able to claim “Look Anakin! They’re morally bankrupt! Help me and I can help you save the one you love!”…and Anakin turns.

How diabolically wise Sidious’ words to Maul were. Accept uncertainty my young apprentice, and the darkside will unlock for you its limitless power.

For my next post I’ll study Prelude to Rebellion. Out of curiosity, does the Rise of the Sith Omnibus include issue #0, or can that only be found online? Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

33 BBY: Darth Maul: Saboteur

Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

For the entire duration of my love affair with Star Wars I had no answer to this question. It’s a question that has been asked of me numerous times by my students. Usually after I show the movie Star Wars to my grade 9 English classes (the mythology unit) and after we watch the film, discuss its similarities to mythology and how it mimics the conventions of the Hero’s Journey, a student would invariably put up their hand and ask: ‘Sir, who is your favorite Star Wars character?’ It is a question that always catches me off-guard, even though I know it’s coming, because I felt never had an answer I was being honest with. I would pause for a moment, and genuinely try to think about it, and usually answer with either Yoda or Han even though it was a reply I never felt completely convinced of. I’m not entirely certain I knew what the answer was.

But not anymore.

Darth Maul: Saboteur, a short story by James Luceno, answered for me this long held Star Wars question. I now know who my favorite Star Wars character is:

Darth Sidious.

Yes, that’s right DARTH SIDIOUS!!!

Has there ever been a more diabolical genius in all of Star Wars history? Has there ever been a Sith Lord who has managed to take over the entire known galaxy AND destroy the Jedi, all the while standing in front of them, smiling and in plain sight, as the shiv that is his Sith machinations entered the Jedi’s unknowing and bewildered guts? Has there ever been a more deadly Sith Lord? Darth Sidous is pure evil genius, and I’ve finally figured out that I really like evil geniuses.

Technically speaking and from a chronological perspective, I believe Saboteur is the first Star Wars story to introduce Darth Sidious into the narrative of Star Wars, along with his extremely disappointing apprentice Darth Maul.

So now that I’ve figured out Darth Sidious is my favorite Star Wars character, I’ve also figured out WHY I’ve never really thought Darth Maul was all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips.

Firstly, I don’t mean to imply I don’t like Darth Maul. I do. I think he looks really cool, and I think he’s an awesome lightsaber dualist, and I think his duel with Kenobi was cool, but I never got the sense that he was someone who would ever usurp the title of Dark Lord of the Sith from his Master. He was never a threat to Sidious, and therefore was uninteresting.

The apprentice to a Dark Lord of the Sith is a very tough job to move up from, and most times, apprentices are not successful in usurping the mantle of Dark Lord for themselves from their Masters (as an apprentice is supposed to do). When one looks at the history of successful Sith apprentices who themselves became Sith Lords, the list is a rather short one. Off the top of my head I can only think of three successful apprentices.

The first one I can think of is Darth Malak, and his usurpation of the title Dark Lord of the Sith from Darth Revan. Though the ideal is for the apprentice to best the Master in combat, when the Jedi strike team lead by Ballista boarded Reven’s ship in the source The Betrayal of Darth Reven, Malak seized his window of opportunity and opened fire on his Master’s battle cruiser. Though Revan wasn’t destroyed, Malak did exactly as he was supposed to – when his Master showed a weakness he immediately went for the throat, which in my opinion makes him worthy of the title Dark Lord of the Sith.

The next successful apprentice to wrest the mantle of Dark Lord from their master is Darth Zannah, Darth Bane’s apprentice. She did so in the most traditional manner – through one-on-one combat, holding her own against the Sith Juggernaut that was Bane. Not only did she neutralize his onslaught, but she used Sith sorcery to do away with her Master, and then bested him spiritually through a battle of wills as he tried to possess her body and destroy her soul.

The third successful apprentice we know of is Darth Sidious. Sidious did not destroy his master through a space battle, or a one-on-one lightsaber duel, but killed his Master in his sleep, which is a tactic that belies the style of Sidious – one of indirect confrontation.

What I’m trying to get at with this discussion of past successful Sith apprentices is that I don’t think Maul could have ever become a Dark Lord of the Sith – even if his apprenticeship did go another twenty years, he was too one-dimensional to be a real threat to Sidious.

As far as Sidious’ apprentices go, the only one I think was the most dangerous was Count Dooku. He had experience, wisdom, and a strong grasp of the darkside to make a real run at taking out Palpatine. I would even go so far as to say I think Dooku was a better Sith apprentice than Vader. It seems to me that Dooku had many more Sith tricks up his sleeve than Vader, and was more versed in what the Darkside had to offer beyond augmenting one’s combat abilities.

After reading Darth Maul: Saboteur, my instinctual reactions to Maul seem validated. Maul was not worthy of the title of Apprentice. At this time in Star Wars chronology, he’s nothing more than an exaggerated assassin, or at best an Emperor’s hand.

With all that being said however, I am looking forward to how Maul will re-enter Star Wars history in the upcoming season 4 of The Clone Wars. Maybe he’ll be flushed out in further detail, and the writers of that series might make him more of a Sith threat than what we were introduced to in The Phantom Menace. As it is, his brother Savage Oppress seems more interesting than Maul at this point.

I apologize for my two week absence. I’ve just been getting jobs done around the house before school starts. I’m not sure how active I’ll be in the next few weeks but I hope to be more fruitful. For my next post I’ll re-engage with the Rise of the Sith omnibus, and examine Jedi Council: Acts of War. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Circa 35-33 BBY: The Battle for Mandalore

Written in 1992, when the Star Wars expanded universe remained in relatively uncharted waters, The Battle for Mandalore, a Star Wars miniatures RPG scenario, is a narrative that is surprisingly not out of sync with our current understanding of the history of Star Wars today. Yes, there are some inconstancies with this text and our present reckoning of 33 BBY now, but with some very simple retconning this RPG scenario can fit well into the existing cannon Star Wars mythology this day.

Interestingly, the origin of this source comes from an RPG magazine called Challenge, which first began publication in 1986, at about the same time West End Games began producing the Star Wars RPG. And surprisingly, The Battle for Mandalore was the only Star Wars RPG scenario Challenge ever ran. Its focus was mainly on other RPG systems such as Twilight: 2000, 2300AD, and Space 1889.

But turning out attention to the source at hand; essentially a civil war has broken out on the Planet Mandalore which was led by one of Mandalore’s Governors, a man named Vrox. We are told he is a “secret supporter of Senator Palpatine” (I’ll get to this line a little later on) and at this point in history is the current dictator of the planet. The Republic military is called in to intervene because Vrox’s Mandalorian forces have been raiding nearby systems. What is more, he has set up an illegal war droid manufacturing facility (JU-9 Juggernaut War Droids – very cylon-esque looking). Thus, the stage is set for the street battle between Republic troops and Mandalorian warriors.

It is on the subject of the Republic military where I want to take pause and discuss. My understanding of the Republic’s military prowess at this particular time period is shaky at best, but as far as I understand the military climate of the Republic during its dwindling days, the Republic doesn’t have a standing military. Now, I would really like for someone who is more versed on this topic to weigh in and let me know what exactly the Republic’s military capability is at this time because I want to know if my assumptions are correct. The reason I’m laboring under the postulation that the Republic doesn’t have a standing military is because of the fuss that was created by Chancellor Palpatine in the Clone Wars when he created a “GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC!”. Amidala and the rest were disconcerted by this development, understandably, which implies that such an institution wasn’t around prior to this.

Still, if it turns out that the Republic doesn’t have a military in the traditional sense; it doesn’t immediately make this source non-canonical. I want to try and rescue it. The “Republic Army Forces” as they are named in this source could be something like a United Nations coalition force; a collection of soldiers given to the Republic in the name of several independent systems and planets. Such a military organization would not be able to carry out large scale military movements, either in attack or defense of the Republic, but it could carry out smaller missions, like this one. But again, I would really like for someone who is more knowledgeable in this particular field to shed some light for me on the Republic’s military capability at 33 BBY, and whether or not such a military operation by the Republic would have been possible.

On the theme of rescuing this source, I want to address the line I mentioned earlier – the one about the Mandalorians being “secret supporters of Senator Palpatine”. Ultimately, I think there is more correct with this line than not. Firstly, I don’t think Palpatine would have “secret supporters” of any kind, because “Senator Palpatine” most likely has no traceable links to anyone shady – politically he’s probably clean as a whistle. His alter-ego Darth Sidious is another story though, and really, I think the spirit of this line could be something like “Governor Vrox of Mandalore, a supporter of Count Dooku and the coalition of independent systems, has taken advantage of the galaxy’s chaos to become virtual dictator of his planet”. In that way, the Vrox really does become a “secret supporter of Senator Palpatine”.

What is more, this source can come further in line with continuity if the Mandalorian Forces mentioned could be re-written as the Death Watch. I know a while back there was much ruckus with regards to Mandalorian continuity after the episode ‘The Mandalore Plot’ aired, thus, some believe, invalidating Karen Traviss’ contributions (and other artist contributions) to Mandalorian history. I have yet to engage with any of this material myself, but from what I understand, ‘The Mandalore Plot’ really didn’t invalidate Traviss’ contribution; however, it did re-contextualize their impact on the larger narrative of Star Wars into something different, but yet still in the end remained compatible with what she originally wrote. Again, I don’t have an opinion on this yet as I have still to read the sources in question. But as it is, I think the Mandalorian Forces in this source can be understood as the Death Watch, and the idea of a Governor becoming a dictator I think could fit well into the history of Mandalore as we understand it post The Clone Wars season 2.

Moving on with my reactions to this source, I think the character of Jedi “Mistress” Voli Quana is quite interesting. Firstly, I like the way Chris Hind, writer of this particular piece referred to her. I’m not sure the title “Mistress” is applied to any female Jedi outside of this source, but it’s a title I think should be re-popularized in Star Wars literature as it denotes authority, control, and power. I also think this could be one of the first sources in Star Wars to hint at the Force power of Battle Meditation. As Army Lieutenant Weirs notices of the Jedi Voli as the battle went on: “The troops are obeying orders which I haven’t given yet…It’s you, isn’t it? Doing something to their minds – to all our minds – to keep us disciplined and in high morale. That’s why you look so haggard”. I’m not entirely certain, but I think Battle Meditation did appear in the Thrawn trilogy at some point, but still, this is one of those earlier Star Wars sources which made reference to this ability.

Finally, not only did I appreciate the honorific applied to the Jedi Mistress Voli Quana from the army lieutenant, but I also liked the way the Jedi’s outfits were described: “A dozen black-clad Jedi Knights advance cautiously through the deserted, rubble choked streets of Mandalore”. I’ve always thought black was a more fitting color choice for Jedi rather than the earthly browns. That’s not to say I don’t like brown clad Jedi as they remind be of the Franciscan order, but I always though the black garb of the Benedictines and local parish priests was more world-renouncing, as the Jedi are. These Jedi reminded me of the Defenders of the Wall from George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones – outcast in that mythology who have taken an oath to renounce the world and defend the realm from outside threats. Plus, Luke did look really cool in black in Return of the Jedi. That was a boss getup.

For my next post I’m going to officially move into the year 33 BBY, and meet for the first time in Star Wars chronology that most menacing Sith Lord Darth Maul, and the source Darth Maul: Saboteur. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

33 BBY: Jedi vs. Sith: Affect Mind & Morichro

This IS the Star Wars blog you are looking for. Don’t move along, don’t move along. (HAHA!)

Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force is a book I always enjoy going back to. For my post today I’m going to cover the pages Affect Mind / Jedi Mind Trick and Morichro. The first is a Force ability commonly used by the Jedi, and the second is an ability which use is generally frowned upon by the Jedi Council of this particular time period.

It is Jedi Master Yarel Poof who provides us with some wisdom on the use of the Jedi Mind Trick, and rightly points out the moral implications attached to entering someone’s mind. His holocron recording to future padawans elucidates the dangers of this seemingly innocuous ability. He lays out some ways a Jedi may use this trick on a guard, and then goes over how the Jedi’s best intentions could turn out disastrous for the victim. Ultimately however, Master Yarel Poof implies to the padawans that if a Jedi must resort to this ability, then he or she has, in some small manner, failed at their other forms of subterfuge.

What I found most interesting about the description of the Affect Mind ability was the illustration of Yarel Poof’s masterful use of it: “He was capable of making himself invisible to fellow Jedi. He was also able to quickly determine an opponent’s fears through the use of the Force, and could create illusions that were perceived by entire armies” (67). Remarkably, this sounds very similar to Darth Zannah’s use of Sith sorcery. She was also able to play on an opponent’s fears, and could quickly send someone into madness by creating illusions that could make someone believe their deepest fears had become incarnate. I think it neat that the lightside of the Force also has this option. Hopefully though, a Jedi would not intentionally send their opponent into madness, but only play on their fears so long as they stopped their enemy.

Though it seems the lightside of the Force has its own response to the Sith’s branch of sorcery, it may be the case that the darkside does not have a response to Morichro, the ability to paralyze an opponent. Morichro is the ability to put anyone into a trace indefinitely. Its coincidence that this ability is described shortly after Sever Force (the most powerful attack to all force users, but only accessible by lightsiders), as I think that after the Sever Force ability this is one of the most powerful non-lethal attacks the lightside has to offer. The problem with it is that it has the potential to be lethal if a Jedi does not take his target out of the trance he has placed him in. I also love that Yaddle is one of the Jedi who has mastered this ability, and managed to master its use after studying different parts of ancient scroll sand holocrons: “Learned of Morichro from a single source, I did not. Barley hinted at, three holocrons did. Partially described over many ancient scrolls and tomes, it was” (82). Yaddle has become one of my favorite Jedi, along with Gorlan Palladane. They seem to both fully understand what a Jedi is meant to be.

Have these powers ever been demonstrated in a story I have yet to cover, because besides the Jedi Mind Trick I don’t think we’ve seen the Affect Mind ability demonstrated to the extent that Master Yarel Poof has it mastered. I’d also love to see Morichro in action as well, since besides this particular mention of it in this text it has yet to be demonstrated by a Jedi, that I know od anyway. Do either of these abilities show up in later stories? Let me know.

For my next post I’m going to cover the RPG article from the magazine Challenge 58: The Battle for Mandalore. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

33 BBY: Urchins

Urchins, a comic short written and penciled by Stan Sakai, has the unique honor of being the first source (from a chronological perspective) to introduce Anakin Skywalker to the mythology of Star Wars.

It’s a humorous little narrative with a funny twist ending. Watto, (it’s his first introduction to Star Wars mythology as well btw) is relentlessly chasing out from his junk shop Anakin’s boy-hood chums who keep hanging around. As the narrative progresses, we learn that Jabba has demanded all of Watto’s gambling debts at once, and the only way he can get the money to pay the Hutt would be to bet against Sebulba in the next podrace. Fortunately for Watto, Anakin and his friends (who he refers to as “useless urchins) unwittingly sabotage Sebulba’s new podracer, wherein Watto wins hits bet and is able to pay off Jabba.

What I like about this story is Anakin’s unwillingness to get into trouble, and the “Dennis the Menace” style of art. It was a playful little tale about boys being boys.

For my next post I’m going to go back to the familiar text of The Essential Guide to the Force. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Circa 35-33 BBY: Jedi Chef

Jedi Chef is a hilarious little tale found in Star Wars Tales volume 2. It features Jedi Master Micah Giiet, who in this tale is side-kicked by Jedi Master Plo Koon.

I loved this story.

Spoofing the Japanese game show Iron Chef, Micah Giient and Plo Koon head to Ord Mantell on a rescue mission of Giient’s friend and world famous chef Slaaba Drewl. Drewl has been captured by Corpo the Hutt, and in order to release his friend Giient challenges Corop’s unbeatable chef droid to a cook-off in an Iron Chef style duel. With the help of Plo Koon behind the scenes who sabotaging the droids meal with all kinds of nasty ingredients, Giient wins the duel and secures the release of his friend.

I don’t have much else to say about this comic, except that the eye-patched ewok with underwear on his head eating a pretzel literally made me laugh out loud. The art in this piece was fun and well done.

The second title of this tale “Pizza Hutt” reminded me of a line from Spaceballs, where at the end of the movie we are told that “Pizza the Hutt ate himself to death”. That line always cracks me up.

The character of Micah Giient seems very interesting as well. Foregoing the usual Force reliant means of rescuing a friend from a Hutt, Giient instead relied on subterfuge and misdirection to help Drewl. The only time he pulled his lightsabers were to chop up the theme ingredient of Denusian squirmers.

Jedi Chef was a fun little tale.

For my next post I’m going to look at Urchins. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Circa 35-33 BBY: Life, Death and the Living Force

Life, Death and the Living Force is a terrible comic which I really enjoyed. What made it terrible was its story, what made it enjoyable was its art.

I guess I’ll begin with what I liked about the comic, as I have some ink to spill on why I thought its story was terrible. The art by Robert Teranishi was very well done. The depiction of Ewan McGregor as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi on the opening page completely captured the likeness of the actor. Also, Teranishi’s artful representation of Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn was spot-on. I’m not sure if that particular style of art has a name, but Teranishi strongest attribute in this comic was his ability to capture the emotion of the protagonists; Obi-Wan’s look of outrage on page 4 and his look of disgust on page 5 all captured the drama of the scene. What is more, Qui-Gon’s constant facial expression of serenity throughout the entire narrative gave the reader a sense of his complete sureness of himself and his abilities – and it’s this sureness I want to address.

Though Teranishi did well with the art, I did not enjoy Jim Wooding’s script: Qui-Gon came off as a complete psychotic – and I’m not being hyperbolic here, I literally mean he came off as a person with psychosis: a mental disorder characterized by symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations that indicate impaired contact with reality. Apparently the “Living Force” is giving Qui-Gon some conflicting commands – at one moment it could be a command to serve, in the next moment it could be a command to kill. I couldn’t tell if Qui-Gon was coming or going in this text.

Allow me to explain what I mean. After helping a Moggonite, a species known for self-centeredness, arrogance, and treachery, Qui-Gon proceeds to tell Obi-Wan that he’s helping this creature because “The Living Force” has basically commanded him to do so. Obi-Wan basically says, ‘Ok, we’ll help him because you’ve told me, but can we get out of here before this guy comes back to slit our throats’. Qui-Gon basically dismisses Obi-Wan and tells him to get some rest, when lo-and-behold, the Moggonite returned to slit their throats. Turns out Obi-Wan was right. So now Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have to kill their attackers, along with the Moggonite Qui-Gon so graciously helped not a few hours before. At this point in the story Obi-Wan is trying to not question his Master’s judgment, but it seems like Obi-Wan’s conscience is getting the better of him. Rightfully the padawan asks the master why he killed so remorselessly when he knew this creature’s treachery was a strong possibility. Now the Jedi have a copious amount of blood on their hands. Qui-Gon’s response: ‘The living Force works in mysterious ways and it told me to kill him’. Oh boy! Its at this point I imagine Obi-Wan’s conscience starts kicking into high gear. He must be thinking – is this guy off his rocker?

Next, the two Jedi come to a large mountain where an ancient and mythological creature lives. I’m going to pause here for a second and talk about this, because besides the art this was the other aspect of the comic I really enjoyed. I’ve learned that in the Star Wars universe, if one person recounts something as a myth, then it did, or does, in fact, exist. The mythological creature in question here is a Silan. But what I thought was really neat about this particular scene was Obi-Wan’s reference to other mythological creatures: a barracle and a glooth. Nothing more is given on these creatures anywhere else in Star Wars mythos. Even wookieepedia says little about them. But what I loved about this scene was their mere mention. Here is an example of what I love about Star Wars, like in the last story I looked at The Monster, someone can take these creature references and build an entire narrative around them. The story could center on why people think they are only myths, or how these “primordial” creatures came to be.

As it is, Qui-Gon gets it into his head, because “the Living Force” is leading him to the spooky mountain, to kill the Silan because it is “evil”, according to him. Its “evil” because its lair is surrounded by a sacrificial altar with the skulls of various humanoid species. Let me pause here for a second time. The altar wasn’t created by the Silan – it was created, presumably, by some group of people offering a sacrifice to the Silan in the first place – the whole “sacrificial altar” part. If there is evil to overcome, it’s in telling whoever is feeding the Silan to stop sending it sacrifices. If some superstitious tribe is sending it sacrificial victims, stop the tribe – tell them what they are doing is wrong, release their sacrificial prisoners, and if they believe the Silan is their God, tell them they are fools and that’s it’s not morally right to sacrifice people. Oh, no? We won’t do that Qui-Gon? It’s not politically correct? Ok, well then let’s just kill the ancient and mythological creature for doing what its nature intended for it to do!

As they approach the creatures lair Obi-Wan starts to say “I don’t think”, and I can only imagine him saying something like “I don’t think this is the right thing to do”, only to be interrupted by Qui-Gon saying “That’s right don’t think!” The Silan attacks and the two Jedi kill it. Later, both are remorseful for what they’ve done. Obi-Wan rightfully points out that: “The Silan had its place in the natural scheme of things didn’t it? It only did as its nature told it to do. What right had we to seek it out and destroy it? It wasn’t harming us” (pg. 50 of Star Wars Tales vol. 1). Qui-Gon’s like “The Living Force works in mysterious ways!” WTH?!?

By listening to the “Living Force” in this story, Qui-Gon killed A LOT of beings. Maybe he should stop listening to that crazy little voice in his head, because man, from what I know of the lightside of the Force, whatever Qui-Gon was following in this story wasn’t the Living Force at all. Qui-Gon’s “Living Force” requires too much killing. What is more, couple Qui-Gon’s actions here in this narrative with him tearing a strip off of Obi-Wan in the Ord Mantell story for wanting to kill the Savrips, and nothing adds up.

Like I said at the start, Life Death and the Living Force was a terrible comic which I really enjoyed, mostly because of its terrible story, if that makes sense. For my next post I’m going to look at Jedi Chef. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

35 BBY: Swim Meet

Swim Meet, a Wizards of the Coast online roleplaying scenario, tells the story of a group of intrepid heroes tasked with hunting down and bringing back to the Jedi council a wayward Jedi consular who has slipped to the darkside.

Though I never got into wotc D20 system, and for a long while I did not have any of the sources, after reading the adventure details of this particular adventure I wish I had. I was just never around a group of gamers who enjoyed the D20 system.

There are a couple of things I think that are really neat about this rpg scenario. Firstly, the bad guy is a Mon-Cal who has embraced the darkside. As far as I can remember Mon-Cal bad guys are a rare breed indeed. After spending a year and a half in a crime syndicate, Ambaln, the dark-Jedi in question, now considers the Jedi council as wayward and full of “degenerates”.

The “MacGuffin” in this story is a force sensitive child Ambaln has kidnapped for the purposes of converting her to the darkside to begin his own Jedi Order. It’s the heroes’ job to get her back AND bring Ambaln back to the council.

Whether or not the heroes are successful in rescuing the child and bringing Ambaln back to the Council dosen't really matter, as this story’s possible ramifications are still fun to ponder. If the heroes are successful, a possible adventure could take them into the criminal syndicate Ambaln was in to uncover where he first began his wayward leanings. If they are not successful, Ambaln remains a target they can continue to pursue. Both are fun possibilities either way.

On a side note, I’m very excited to hear about Fantasy Flight Games’ purchase of the Star Wars RPG license, and I’m very excited to see what direction they take the game and the materials they’ll produce.

For my next post I’m going to go back to the comic medium and take a look at Star Wars Tales volume 1, and the story Life, Death, and the Living Force.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

34 BBY: The Monster

The Monster, a short story by Dan Wallace, is a perfect example of what I love about the Star Wars universe. In The Phantom Menace we were introduced to Captain Panaka, a relatively one-dimensional character. He was the Captain of the Royal Naboo Security forces, and throughout the narrative of TPM played his role as such. Captain Panaka is a character that has come off of Lucas’ assembly line of one-dimensional characters, and through Wallace’s artistic caretaking has been gracefully painted into something rich and embellished.

I’m not suggesting that Lucas creates only one-dimensional characters – he doesn’t. But with that being said it’s understandable that Lucas needs to create some one-dimensional characters to further along a plot. But this is what I love about the Star Wars universe: that some other author or artist can come along, take Lucas’ relatively flat creation, and flush out a rich and multifaceted backstory to this cardboard archetype so that the next time we engage with him we regard him in a different and deeper light. The Monster, a story about Captain Panaka, does just this.

There are a bunch of really interesting elements going off in this story, the first being Panaka’s introduction to the tale. At the start of the narrative I thought I was reading some 1970’s-Dirty-Harry-gritty-cop-drama, complete with a running gunfight in the spattered darkness of some abandoned warehouse. Attempting to ‘nail the perp’, Panaka gets into a good ‘ol fashioned fist fight with the bad-guy (a Gungan – and who knew Gungans were so strong?), and takes him down one head-butt at a time. Brilliant! But it gets even better!

Leaving the confines of gritty cop drama, we switch gears to ironic social commentary by Wallace. Taking the bad guy back to the station, Panaka proceeds to interrogate the Gungan, asking him about accomplices and such: “Panaka shot back. “Crimes were committed during the same period. Most people would peg you as the likely suspect." The Gungan laughed. "To dem, mesa only crime tis bein a Gungan." Panaka shook his head. Typical” (2). The irony of this scene is just too good. Here we have the captured gungan, the Star Wars stand in for the black suspect, coupled with Panaka’s words ringing with an air of racism, or in the Star Wars universe, speciesism.

Where do I begin? Is Wallace having fun here, pointing out in an ironic manner the real-world racist backdrop of the Gungans by simply following the lead set by George Lucas, the man responsible for introducing such a racist caricature into the Star Wars universe to begin with? Is Wallace simply taking Lucas’ coon-caricature brain-child and running with, going ‘well George, he’s what you’ve done!’ Is the Gungan in this story simply another “Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hooves”, to quote Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, but less of a “bumbling dimwitted amphibian-like creature who speaks Caribbean-accented pidgin English” but still with “ears that suggest dreadlocks and wearing bell-bottom pants and a vest”? Is the Gungan in this story the big and strong jungle Gungan, the one to be feared by nice hardworking Naboo? I don’t know, but I do honestly believe that Wallace is lampooning Lucas’ racist creation here by pointing out in his own tale that the Gungan’s are victims of speciesism in the Star Wars universe. It’s absolutely brilliant – and all of this coming from Panaka! Genius!

I don’t know, maybe I’m reading way too much into this scene. But please, someone convince me that Jar Jar Binks was not the latest in Black cinematic stereotyping, whether Lucas meant it or not.

Anyway, I think I’ve taken this post in a negative direction and have pulled the fun out of an otherwise totally awesome piece of literary fantasy.

So, putting aside my comments of racial caricaturing, it’s true to say that Dan Wallace hit this one out of the park, again.

Like Ryder Windham, Dan Wallace’s understanding and knowledge of Star Wars is encyclopedic and deep. If for some reason Lucas decided to walk away from Star Wars, Dan Wallace, and others of his ilk like Windham, Hidalgo, or Pena (just to name a few Star Wars artists I respect and admire), are folk I would want to step in as the director of this universe because I know the mythology created and the history written would be in good hands. Dan Wallace loves Star Wars, and it shows in his work.

What I also like about Wallace’s work, and the same could be said of JJM’s, is that it is helpful to have wookieepedia open as I read, as I imagine that these writers also have wookieepedia open as they write. It’s nice to have a visual of some alien species I’ve never heard of, or have an image of some linguistic reference. In The Monster, I looked up futhark script, which I learned was the formal form of writing on Naboo, and was the lettering found on a door that Panaka had to walk through.

Getting back to the short story however, what I also liked about The Monster was that Dan Wallace built up some narrative around two interesting and awesome creatures featured in The Phantom Menace: the Opee and the Sando aqua monster. The Sando aqua monster is a creature I can see the ancient Naboo telling stories about around a campfire – the mysterious white whale of Nabooian sailor stories. Funny enough, I was so immersed in the tale, as the Monster beached itself and flayed around, I thought that such a rare occurrence would be a goldmine of information to Nabooian marine biologists. Why didn’t anyone call a scientist to come and examine the creature? If it didn’t live it could have been stuffed and placed in a natural history museum somewhere on Naboo or even off-world. That’s how into the story I was!

Like I alluded to before, The Monster is a gritty cop drama planted into the Star Wars universe. Instead of Dirty Harry and his .44 magnum we have Lieutenant Panaka and his S-5 Royal Naboo security pistol. Not only do we have a tough protagonist with a big gun, he even uncovers a conspiracy at the highest level of government, centering on some sensitive information about either Senator Palpatine or King Veruna or both. As is the case in all gritty cop dramas, the superior officer, in this case Captain Magneta, tells her subordinate, Lieutenant Panaka, that he’s barking up the wrong tree, and that “everything is taken care of”. And everything is taken care of, as Captain Magneta has all evidence of the possible conspiracy erased with the blast from a Naboo fighter’s laser cannons.

The Monster was a fantastic read.

Before I sign off I’ll offer this story to anyone who wants it. Drop me a line at either theforce.net forums, my handle there is JarenJade, or at the swtor forums, my handle there is Iscariot. Send me your e-mail address and I let me know you’d like the story.

For my next post I’m going to move ahead a few more years in Star Wars history to 35 BBY to the WOTC RPG scenario Swim Meet. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

36 BBY: Aurra's Song

Aurra’s Song, written by Dean Motter, is the origin-story of Aurra Sing, a bounty hunter in the time of the dwindling decades of the Republic. First featured in The Phantom Menace as a bounty hunter observing the actions of a young Anakin Skywalker, Aurra’s Song begins to fill in the backstory of this enigmatic hunter. Though she made her first appearance in a Star Wars film, this particular comic is Aurra’s introduction into the annuls of Star Wars mythology (I think, she may have made an appearance in one of the flashbacks prior to this date that I skipped).

Though this comic is fairly short there are a lot of neat little elements going off in this tale that I want to talk about, aspects such as ship design, The Dark Woman, and Aurra Sing the Bounty Hunter.

Firstly, I’ve always thought that the Republic consular-class cruiser featured at the start of The Phantom Menace (a ship making an appearance in this comic) is very cool in design. There’s something about it that seems like it would make an awesome pirate vessel. Small for a capital ship and very maneuverable with its three engines in the back, it’s a ship I can see being modified and tricked out with large scale weaponry. Just as cool as the Republic cruiser is Aurra’s blockade runner featured at the end of this story. Both ships just seem really cool to me. I think after the Fairwind, my next favorite Star Wars ship is the Republic cruiser.

Though the ships featured in this time period of Star Wars are very cool, another interesting element of this story is the mention of The Dark Woman, Aurra’s “rouge Jedi” instructor. Not much is given about her except that some figure her as a myth or legend. But her tutelage of Aurra Sing demonstrates that the bounty hunter is at least trained in the Jedi arts (that and the red saber she is sporting at the beginning of this story).

According to the hutt in this narrative, (the hutt is not named) The Dark Woman sold to him Aurra as a pleasure slave. As it turned out however, Aurra’s abilities as a pleasure slave were sub-par, and not wanting to chase good money after bad, the hutt decided to have her trained as an assassin by the Anzati, a race of aliens who enjoy eating brains.

Though only mentioned briefly in this comic, at first glance The Dark Woman reminds me of Kreia from the KOTOR 2 video game. I wonder if she’s as morally relativistic or as borderline nihilist as Kreia was. If her name is anything to go by, the fact that Aurra Sing is trained in the Jedi arts as an assassin seems to indicate that The Dark Woman is probably a dark Jedi. As it is, I’m looking forward to finding out more about her as I continue through the story of Star Wars.

Not only am I looking forward to uncovering in depth who The Dark Woman is, but I am also looking forward to learning about Aurra Sing. Since her appearances in The Phantom Menace, and now in The Clone Wars, she has been a bounty hunter that has been on my radar for a while. We have yet to see her handle a lightsaber in The Clone Wars, and as far as bounty hunters goes, she seems as ruthless and as dangerous as Cad Bane.

For my next post I’m going to head to the last entry of 34 BBY, the hyperspace short story Monster, and pass over the flashback entries of Jedi Quest and Jango Fett, and deal with them at their proper dates. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

37 BBY: Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan: Last Stand on Ord Mantell

Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan: Last Stand on Ord Mantell is one of the better Star Wars comics I’ve come across in a while. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember enjoying a comic this much since Jedi vs. Sith. Of course, coming from Ryder Windham I would expect no less. Of all the Star Wars authors I’ve come across thus far in my journey, Windham is among the better writers. He has a highly nuanced understanding of the history and lore of the Star Wars universe. I always get the impression from Windham that he’s not just a professional writer, but a professional fan as well.

What I enjoyed most about this comic however, was not Windham’s contribution, but the work of Ramon F. Bachs – the art was fantastic! Bachs’ work is familiar to me, as it was his pencil’s I enjoyed in the Jedi vs. Sith comic. I’m not sure if I’ve come across Bachs work in other Star Wars comics I’ve engaged with, but I know there is still more to come for me from this great artist. The comic art makes or breaks the comic, and Bachs makes it every time.

But getting back to the story of the Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan: Last Stand on Ord Mantell: it was a great little murder mystery tale with neat twists and turns. It even featured a ‘hot farmer’s daughter’. What’s not to love about that character?

However, plot synopsis aside, I want to address two scenes which stuck out at me, both of them having to do with the characterization of Qui-Gon. As great as I think Windham is I think he portrayed Qui-Gon a little harshly in this story. After discovering the Republic rescue team failed in its attempts to rescue Baron Sando, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan discovered many dead bodies on Baron Sando’s freighter, all killed by a savrip. Obi-Wan, in his youthful ignorance declared: “I can’t help but think the universe would be a better place without monsters like savrips”. Qui-Gon quickly shoots back to the boy: “Really….that may be the most impudent comment I’ve ever heard from you”. Ouch! The Qui-Gon I know from Watson’s stories would never had let a comment like that from Obi-Wan slide, much like Windham’s Qui-Gon did not, but Watson’s Qui-Gon would have been a little more gentle in his delivery I think. Obi-Wan would have understood he cross a line, but to call his comment impudent was a little much. The comment came from a place of anger and frustration, and Qui-Gon, as wise master, would have served his pupil better had he addressed the emotion behind the comment, and not focus on the poor choice of words from his student.

The other scene I found that went against Qui-Gon’s character was the final episode in the story. Having discovered it was Baroness Omnino behind the killing of the savrips, the “noble savages” in this narrative, and learning that she was wearing a mind control device around her head, Qui-Gon PROCEEDS TO DECAPITATE HER!!! Holy crap!!! Since when is decapitation the Jedi way?!? I mean, couldn’t he have forced pushed her, or force run at her, or done some other sudden or discombobulating move? Must he have immediately gone to defcon 9 and chopped her head off? It just seemed to me that such an act is defiantly not something Qui-Gon, or any other Jedi master would have done. Taking a life is a rather important call to make. I’ve said it once and I’ll it again: the Jedi are protectors of the peace and protectors of life, regardless of how worthy they think that person may be of that life. They Jedi are not judges, juries, and executioners.

Still, those small critiques aside, Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan: Last Stand on Ord Mantell was one of the most enjoyable Star Wars comics I’ve read. Fir my next post I’m going to continue through my Rise of the Sith omnibus, and engage with the story Aurra’s Song. Until then my friends, May the Force be with you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

38 BBY: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: The Aurorient Express

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: The Aurorient Express is a funny little Star Wars comic adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express. However, the only similarities between this story and the original are a varied cast of characters all involved in a mystery. Instead of detective Hercule Poirot attempting to solve a murder, we have Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan trying to figure out why the Luxury cruise liner The Aurorient Express is being targeted for destruction.

At the end of the day it wasn’t the eco-terrorists who destroyed the ship; rather, it was the vessels own disgruntled crew.

Anyway, I really don’t have much to comment on with regards to this source. I enjoyed it. I thought it was a fun little read with spots of humor here and there. The art was ok and the story moved at an adequate pace. My favorite character was the smarmy Saul Moegantz, a gambler and criminal gangster. Maybe I’ll mental-note this guy and include him in my own fiction in the future.

The only aspect of this story I’m having trouble with is the discussion of utilitarianism at the start. Helvetius and Jeremy Bentham would be proud of Count Dooku for ingraining such important philosophy onto his pupil Qui-Gon Jinn, for now it is Qui-Gon who is trying to convince his apprentice that ‘the ends justify the means’. As Obi-Wan asks of his master’s former teacher: “He actually believed that certain despicable behaviors can be conscionable?” Qui-Gon responds with: “If it is overshadowed by a greater outcome, yes”. What I’m struggling to figure out here is if this conversation had anything to do with the events of the story. I’m not sure it did, but maybe I missed something? Was there a reason utilitarianism was evoked at the start of this tale that I can’t see?

As it is, I’m not surprised it was Dooku who convinced Qui-Gon of the validity of utilitarianism, as it flies in the face of the Jedi’s virtue ethics.

For my next post I’m going to look at the following story in the Rise of the Sith omnibus Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: Last Stand on Ord Mantell. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Handling 32 BBY

Ok folks,

Here is the list consisting of how I'm going to tackle the year 32 BBY.  There will be nearly 40 separate posts for this year, and there are still many sources that I need to get my hands on that are difficult to find.

Take a look at what I've listed and make sure I've got everything:

Cloak of Deception

Tales #5: A Summer’s Dream

The Starfighter Trap

Tales #7: Single Cell

Galactic Battlegrounds: Mission 1

Darth Maul #1-4

Tales #24: Marked

Episode 1 Adventures: 1-15

Tales # 3: The Death of Captain Tarpals

Tales #6: Thank the Maker

A Queen’s Diary

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Film

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Novel

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Scholastic Novel

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: TBP

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Manga

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: Photo Comic

Episode 1: Anakin Skywalker / Qui-Gon Jinn / Queen Amidala / Obi-Wan Kenobi / The Phantom Menace #½ (Emissaries and Assassins)

Secrets of Naboo (wotc)

Battle for Theed (wotc)
(Plaristes, do you have this one?)

The Queen’s Amulet

Episode 1 Journals: Anakin Skywalker / Queen Amidala / Darth Maul

Star Wars Junior: Droids Everywhere / Jedi Escape/ Obi-Wan’s Bongo Adventure/ Catch that Pit Droid!/ Podrace/ C3PO’s Big Adventure/ Sith Attack/ Meet the Jedi High Council/ Droids to the Rescue/ General Jar Jar/ Gungan Trouble/ Save Naboo

Episode I: Queen in Disguise / Anakin’s Fate/ Dangers of the Core/ Jar Jar’s Mistake/ Anakin’s Pit Droid/ Darth Maul's Revenge/ Anakin to the Rescue/ Anakin's Race for Freedom

Episode I storybooks: Watch out Jar Jar!/ I Am a Jedi / I Am a Droid/ I Am a Pilot/ I Am a Queen

Podracing Tales: The Saboteur/ The Favorite/ The Conspirators/ The Amateur/ Day of the Boonta/ The Race/ The Aftermath
(I'll need some help tracking these down too)

Galactic Battlegrounds Mission #2 / #3.4-3.7 (video game)

Starfighter ( video game)

The Bounty Hunters: Aurra Sing

Episode 1: The Gungan Frontier (video game)

Tales #2: Incident at Horn Station

Tales #8: Bad Business

Tales #21-24: Nomad

Star Wars #7-12: Outlander

Bounty Hunter (video game)

Jango Fett: Open Seasons

Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force: Return of the Sith /Arrival at the Jedi Temple/ The Force as a source of Energy / The Conversion of Count Dooku