Tuesday, January 31, 2012

67 BBY: Vow of Justice

In 67 BBY, as Darth Plagueis usurped the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith from his master Darth Tenebrous across the galaxy, a young Ki-Adi Mundi was learning what it means to be a Jedi.
In Vow of Justice we meet a young and fresh Ki-Adi Mundi, newly minted as a Jedi Knight and looking to right the wrongs of the universe, particularly; to right some wrongs done to his kin.

For many years Ki-Adi’s family was harassed by raiders who abused his father and stole his family’s food and supplies.  Unable to stand up to the gang leader, Ki-Adi's father simply capitulated to the raiders’ demands, and paid tribute to them whenever they arrived.
Years prior and only a boy at the time, and  much to his father’s sorrow, Ki-Adi was taken by a mysterious Jedi woman to begin his Jedi training (is this particular Jedi the Dark Woman as some have suggested?).  Decades later Ki-Adi Mundi returned home hoping to be a hero to his people.  Vow of Justice is the story of Ki-Adi’s struggle to handle his need for revenge.

“Justice is the fruit of compassion”, Yoda reminds Ki-Adi before the young Jedi returns to his home world to confront the raiders who used to abuse and steal from his family.  “Hate the act but pity the being – lost his battle with the darkside he has” says Yoda, paraphrasing the great Christian theologian St. Augustine who said “Love the sinner, but hate the sin”.  To win his battle with the darkside Ki-Adi must learn to love his enemy. Fortunately, it is a lesson Ki-Adi eventually learns.
Indeed, Bin-Garda-Zon did lose his battle with the darkside, but Ki-Adi did not.  Once Ki-Adi found the raiders responsible for harassing his family, the once powerful gang leader was now a shrivelled old man, incapable of defending himself.    Tossing aside the old man’s fruitless attacks upon him, Ki-Adi walked away, leaving the old man to his bitterness and frailty.

“For the former chief, there is no greater punishment than that which he’s brought upon himself – to be rendered inconsequential.  Justice has been served”
The tale ends with Ki-Adi Mundi dismantling the group of raiders, and returning home the hero he hoped he would be.

For my next post I’m going to take a look at Scott Allie’s Star Wars: Jedi: The Dark Side.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, January 30, 2012

67 BBY: The Tenebrous Way

I like Star Wars Insider magazine because it gives the Star Wars short story a place to call home.  As of now Star Wars Insider seems to be the replacement for Hyperspace, where us Star Wars short story lovers used to go to get our abbreviated Star Wars fix.

As those of you who have been reading my blog for a while already know, I’m a huge fan of Star Wars short stories.  Even though I think Star Wars Insider is great, and it’s my hope it continues to publish great short fiction, what I’d really love so see would be a magazine or other publication exclusively dedicated to Star Wars short stories.  Arguably, it may not be commercially viable, but this idea has been bouncing around my head for a while and I have a couple of thoughts on how to execute such a notion.  When the Star Wars Chronology Project is complete I may dedicate my creative energy to such a venture.

As it is, what I really love about the short stories featured in this magazine’s pages is the art that accompanies them.  Since March of 2011 I’ve subscribed to Insider at www.zino.com. Each copy is under 5 bucks, and you can order back issues up to issue 117.

On that note, Brian Rood’s art for The Tenebrous Way is fantastic.  A duel wielding Plaugeis and the Bithian Tenebrous were both excellently rendered.  There’s something to be said for interesting Star Wars art.  I also follow the blog www.starwarsart.org which features random Star Wars fan art from around the web.  Call me a simpleton, but I love it when stories include pictures. 
Moving on, I should get to my reactions to the story in question: The Tenebrous Way by Matthew Stover; what an absolute gem of a story.

If The Tenebrous Way is a harbinger of what is to come in Darth Plagueis, I couldn’t be more excited to get to that novel.  I haven’t read many reviews of Darth Plagueis, but what I have come across has been positive.  Granted, Darth Plaugeis is by a different author – James Luceno, but Stover and Luceno are among the most highly regarded Star Wars authors by fans of the Star Wars EU.    
I’ve broken my reactions to The Tenebrous Way into four sections: its mention of the Journal of the Whills, the origins of Anakin, the legitimacy of Plagueis as a Darth, and the Twilight zone.

Firstly, The Journals of the Whills is not something I’ve talked much about in my blog because, as of now, it seems to operate only on the periphery of the Star Wars mythos.  Originally mentioned in Lucas’ Annotated Screenplays, he says of the Journal:

"Originally, I was trying to have the story be told by somebody else; there was somebody watching this whole story and recording it, somebody probably wiser than the mortal players in the actual events. I eventually dropped this idea, and the concept behind the Whills turned into the Force. But the Whills became part of this massive amount of notes, quotes, background information that I used for the scripts; the stories were actually taken from the 'Journal of the Whills'." (Journal of the Whills from Wookeeipedia)

The Journal of the Whills was supposed to operate in the Star Wars universe like The Red Book of Westmarch operated in Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  As Wikipedia says of it:

Red Book of Westmarch is the medieval ploy of giving one's work more authority by pretending it comes from antiquity”

I talked about this literary technique in my write-up on The Jedi Path, calling attention to the 18th century novel The Castle of Ontronto.   That story starts with a pre-face from the author (Walpole) claiming the original manuscript for the story about to be read was originally found in an ancient library from the 10th century, thus using the medieval literary device of claiming authority because it comes from antiquity.
In The Tenebrous Way, The Journal of the Whills somewhat conforms to this literary device, but also takes on another interesting characteristic – the story of the ancient hero, like that described in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces:

“The key, he’d discovered, lay in an obscure legend obliquely referenced in The Journal of the Whills, about a hero fairly typical in most cultures – the sort of promised future saviour who appears in the foundational myths of nearly every developed society” (Star Wars Insider, issue 130, pg. 24)

The oblique reference this passage is making is to Anakin Skywalker, the “ancient hero fairly typical in most cultures”.  But I like the way Stover called attention to the entire Star Wars story here.  Star Wars is itself the foundational myth of the American Empire – it’s American heroes, Luke, Han, and Leia, who are small in number, fighting against the tyranny, strength, and size of the British accented Empire.   Star Wars is the story of the American Revolution.
With all that being said, however, I think The Journal of the Whills is a non-starter, and I think it was wise that Lucas dropped it before it became something important to the mythology of Star Wars.  Yet for some reason, 30-plus years down the line, it’s starting to rear its ugly head into contemporary Star Wars fiction.  Why?  Why do authors like Stover and Lucas now feel this is something important to revisit?  The Journal of the Whills muddles the Star Wars universe.  The Star Wars universe does not need to connect to ours, if that is the intent of this literary device.

I mention Lucas in this because it is rumoured that episode 15 of season 5 of The Clone Wars animated TV show is titled “The Journal of the Whills”.  If The Journal of the Whills deals with prophecies of “The Chosen One”, as Stover suggests in this story, and if it is no longer the literary device it was originally intended to be by Lucas, then I can see why its inclusion could now make sense.  But if it’s still going to operate in Star Wars mythology like The Red Book of Westmarch, why now?  Moreover, this particular literary device subtracts from the story of Star Wars.  Star Wars does not need The Journal of the Whills – it functions just fine without it.

Moving on, and putting aside my distrust for this new-found toy of The Journal of the Whills, I think The Tenebrous Way makes the origins of Anakin Skywalker a little more interesting, but also a little more confusing.  As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I’ve speculated (and I was by no means the first) that Plagueis was the being responsible for Anakin’s creation.  This idea is first given credence in this story.  We are told that Tenebrous chose Plagueis as an apprentice so that Plagueis would use the midichlorians to create a being “born of pure Force”, that Tenebrous would one day essence transfer himself into.

“An apprentice, whose sole purpose was to create the being Tenebrous would become” (Star Wars Insider, issue 130, pg. 26).

But unfortunately, and much to Tenebrous’ fright, Plagueis was not successful in the creation of such a being:

“For an instant, Tenebrous felt the death anguish of Plagueis…and felt the searing agony Plagueis felt…at his failure to have ever created the Force-user Tenebrous was to become!  He would allow his apprentice to kill him too soon” (Star Wars Insider, issue 130, pg. 28).

Ever since Sidious’s eerie speech to Anakin about Darth Plagueis the Wise’s ability to “create life” from midichlorians I’ve though that Anakin was Plagueis’ last laugh on Sidious.  I thought that perhaps Plagueis knew that his apprentice was going to eventually do-him-in, so in response, and even before any ball got rolling, Plagueis played the long-con and created an apprentice for his own apprentice, one which he knew would destroy Sidious.  This is, of course, what Tenebrous is himself trying to do – play the long con.  But it seems that all these well laid plans blew up in everyone’s face.
But I think the question still remains: Did Plagueis actually create Anakin, or was Tenebrous’ premonition that Plagueis had failed in his venture – their collective venture – simply incorrect? Did Plagueis catch on to his old Master’s conscience’s survival, and have him believe he failed?  Did Sidious finish the job that Plagueis started?  Is Anakin a “vergence in the Force” as described by Qui-Gon, or is he simply a Sith biology experiment? 

Remarkably, the jury is still out on this one.  Let me know what you think about all this.
Even though we cannot draw any definite conclusions about Anakin’s origins in this story, I think we can determine one thing for certain: Plagueis was worthy of the title “Darth”.  In my post on Darth Maul: Saboteur, I talked a little about the successful Sith apprentices in Star Wars history, noting that, more often than not, an apprentice (like Maul) was usually not successful in usurping the title “Dark Lord of the Sith” from their Master.  When you look at which apprentices who were successful in defeating their masters, as apprentices are supposed to do, the list is rather short: Darth Malak, Darth Zannah, and Darth Sidious.  Detailing the relationship between Darth Tenebrous and his apprentice in this short story, we can now add Darth Plagueis to that list, despite Tenebrous’ claims that ‘he let him win’.  It turns out that Tenebrous deeply underestimated his apprentice, and in turn paid with a hellish existence in a time loop.

Which brings me to my final, anti-climactic point: I thought this story was great because of its surprise ending.  It reminded me of an episode from the Twilight Zone, wherein the protagonist often has an incorrect or misconstrued view of the reality they are living in, and at the end of the story only comes to the realization that all is not what they thought it was.
For my next post I’m going to fill-in a blank I missed back in August/September, and take a look at Vow of Justice.  Until then my friends, May the Force be with you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

1032 BBY: Knight Errant: Deluge

Every time I read John Jackson Miller I enjoy his work a little more than the last.    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a fan of JJM’s contributions to the Star Wars cosmos. 

In Knight Errant: Deluge, JJM gives his readers yet another compelling antagonist, one even more captivating than Daiman: Zodah the Hutt.  This Hutt is like no other we’ve come across in the Star Wars universe.  Zodah says as much to Kerra Holt in their final confrontation in issue 5:
               “I’m like no Hutt you’ve ever known, human.  I enjoy field work – getting my hands dirty.”

And how! 

Zodah bellows this declaration to Kerra Holt before the two engage in combat.  Equipped with a suit of armor outfitted with jetpacks, and clutching a Mandalorian battle axe, Zodah the Hutt prepared to ‘get his hands dirty’ with Kerra Holt’s blood.  In the final confrontation, Zodah turned off the artificial gravity on his ship to even the playing field as he and Holt engaged in one-on-one armed combat.  It’s a truly unique and original scene: a Hutt and a Jedi floating through the bridge of a large ship, one swinging an axe, the other swinging a lightsaber.  Knight Errant: Deluge is worth the price of admission on the merits of that scene alone.

This final scene was only one of many which placed a Hutt in an unusual circumstance.
Though I started my post with the epitome of what Zodah the Hutt has to offer in these pages, there were other awesome scenes like this scattered throughout the 5 part series, the most disarming of which was Zodah’s introduction.

In the opening pages of Deluge, Zodah the Hutt is leading an aerial attack on one of the planets controlled by Odion.  What is remarkable about this scene is that Zodah is in his own starfighter.  Seeing a Hutt at the controls of a starfighter, his large mass squeezed into a cockpit, is quite funny.  But this Hutt is not one to be trifled with.  His initial assault into Sith space was not only successful, but once he took control of Odian’s territory he then demanded tribute from the various Sith leaders (re: cousins).
Remarkably, Zodah would have been successful in his efforts to control Sith space were it not for the efforts of Kerra Holt and some of her allies from Republic space.  In a great twist, it’s Kierra who comes to the rescue of Daiman’s worlds, as she saves the citizens of Darknell (Daimen’s capital city) from destruction by the hands of Zodah. 

Zodah the Hutt is now my favorite Hutt in all of Star Wars.
Even though Zodah the Hutt is what I got a kick out of the most in this series, there were other aspects of this comic arc worth mentioning as well.  Kerra received some great character development, as she is starting to become a Jedi I admire.  Building upon what I said the last time I talked about Kerra, she’s moved from an exclusively revenge driven martially focused Jedi, to a Jedi on a humanitarian mission to save the downtrodden trapped in Sith space. It’s this humanitarian ideal which brought her back to Damian’s planet to save his citizens, themselves only helpless victims in a war of the 1%’s making.

On a different note, I missed Beadle Lubbon and Jarrow Rusher from this story.  I thought they were going to be more permanent characters in the narrative of Kerra Holt, but they were notably absent.  That’s too bad; I got a kick out of those guys.

I really haven’t much else to say about this title.  Like all of JJM’s work I really enjoyed it.  The story was great, and the art was well done.  I look forward to the next series.

Maybe you all can help me out with regards to what my next post will be.  Do I move to the recently published comic series Star Wars Jedi: The Dark Side, which explores the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and his first Padawan, Xanatos, or do I read Darth Plagueis? I think its Darth Plagueis I move to next, but I’d rather get a few other opinions on that before I get started on it.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

3643-3641 BBY: The Old Republic: Lost Suns

The Old Republic: Lost Suns was an enjoyable read from Darkhorse and Bioware.  It was not the best comic series I’ve ever read, but at least it wasn’t as bad as Threat of Peace; however, there was one moment it came close.

The most notable aspect of this story is the origins of its protagonist, Theron Shan, who happens to be the “secret son” of Grand Master Satele Shan. What makes Theron special is that he’s not. Unlike his mother the Force is not strong with him.  He’s just a simple man trying to make his way in the universe.  His wookieepedia page can be found here, and interestingly, there is no mention of his father.  The obvious lead for Theron’s father is Harron Tavus from the comic Threat of Peace.  He and Satele had some flirtatious interludes within the confines of that story.  What is more, his name reflects well with Harron’s, and Satele could have named him in honour of his secret father.  But I have another theory.  After reading the Journal of Master Gnost-Dural I think that Jace Malcolm could be Theron’s father, since Satele Shan mentions him more than once in her addendum to Gnost-Dural’s words.  Recounting her experience while in orbit of Korriban at the time of the Sith’s onslaught of the Republic (the events of Bioware’s cinematic Return) Shan comments: 

“Not long after I arrived, an unknown freighter landed on Korriban’s surface, and Master Kao and I were sent to investigate along with a Republic officer I have come to respect as much as any Jedi in the Order – Corporal Jace Malcolm” (The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural, 20).

Admittedly Shan also effuses praise on Nico Okarr and his ability to fly a freighter; however, she mentions Malcolm again later on.  Recounting her experience at the liberation of Alderaan she comments:

“Somehow, in the midst of the Imperial attack, these soldiers had formed a small resistance force under the command of a respected trooper with whom I was familiar – Captain Jace Malcolm…Despite the overwhelming odds against them, Captain Malcolm and his men had taken out more than three times their own number on the Imperial side when I arrived” (The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural, 70-71)

Her words regarding this Republic commando offer praise and respect for the man, but it was the use of the term “familiar” which piqued my interest.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but as I said, I headed to Theron’s wookieepedia page to find mention of this and was surprised to find nothing at all.  I’m sure other folk may have tried to connect this dot as well, but since it has not been officially stated my assumption lies on the field of speculation.  As with any theories I proffer in this blog, I’m not married to it, I’m simply pointing out my observations.

I’ve tried to nail down the age of Satele Shan in this comic, and I think she is somewhere between 50 and 60.  She was a Padawan when the Sith attacked Korriban in 3681, and Lost Suns takes place circa 3643-3641 making it a span of nearly 40 years.  If we assume she is somewhere between 15-20 when the Sith attack, that would make her approaching 60 when we engage with her at the end of this series. (I’ll comment on that shortly).  As it is, she looks good for her age.  In the Black Talon flashpoint in the Old Republic MMO, you can engage with Shan.  As an imperial, she appears in a holoimage and orders your party to stand down or face the consequences.  I mention this because he does not look like a woman approaching 60 in the holoimage.  She still resembles the heroine from the Old Republic cinematic – a nubile young woman.  Even in the final pages of this comic she does not look like a woman in her 60’s.  It’s almost like a powerful woman cannot be shown as old, lest she be considered weak.  The same cannot be said of men, who if are portrayed as old must necessarily mean they are more powerful.  It’s an unfortunate double standard in our culture.  Basically what I’m trying to say is this: if indeed I have my math correct, and by 3641, which this comic and the game are set in, Satele Shan is a woman either approaching her 60’s or in her 60’s then depict her as such.  The desire to appear young is an indication of vanity, and I doubt vanity would be a trait found in the Grand Master of the Jedi Order.  By the time most women reach their 60’s they have wrinkles and gray hair – which is fine, such is the truth of life, and there is a dignified beauty in such an image.  Why are the artists at Darkhorse and Bioware backing off from the presentation of Satele Shan as an older woman?  I’d like to know.

Moving on, what I also found of interest in this comic was the character of Darth Mekhis.  She was a scientist and Dark Lord of the Sith who sat on the Dark Council. She reminded me of Darth Scabrous from Red Harvest, which would have been a contemporary of hers.  Like Scabrous, Mekhis brought the dead to life with the creation of her Sith Knights – captured Jedi who refused to turn to the darkside and were then “corrupted by her power” and surgically made in to mindless cyborgs, kind of like when Captain Jean Luc Picard was captured by the Borg and turned into ‘Locutus of Borg’ (such a great series of episodes btw).  She used her science to gain power, and developed a piece of machinery that could harvest the energy of a star in its entirety, and transform that nearly endless energy into super weapons of mass destruction for the Empire. 

It’s this aspect of ‘harvesting nature’ that I find intriguing about the Sith – capitalism to its logical conclusion.  It recalls Sidious’ speech to Anakin and his story about Darth Plaguies the Wise: “The darkside of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”.  The Sith have always corrupted nature.  It was the catalyst to the Hundred Year Darkness schism in the Jedi order. A schism brought on because of Jedi using their Force abilities to manipulate animals into horrific monsters that could be controlled.  Scabrous attempted eternal life, which is itself such a deeply unnatural pursuit.  And of course, the Sith Emperor is the epitome of unnatural life.  The sun harvesters in this story fit in well with what we know of the Sith Emperor.  It is clear at this point in time that the Sith Emperor does not want to take over the galaxy; he wants to consume it like a Darth Nihilus to the power of ten.

Even though the Sith Emperor is never mentioned in this story, Lost Suns still tells us something about his character.  He is one of those men that simply wants to see the world burn.

Lost Suns was an enjoyable read (including the title’s neat play on words), but it was almost derailed at the end with the apparent death of Darth Mekhis.  In a movement worthy of Rob Chestney, Darth Mekhis was apparently killed by a non-force sensitive Republic spy with a dart gun.  Such an embarrassing death recalls the assassination of Grand Master Zym at the hands of some no-name bounty hunter in Threat of Peace.  What is it with Bioware titles and their super powerful characters being killed by equally non-super powerful characters?

For my next post I’ll be working myself out of the Old Republic era yet again, and back into the Draggulch period with Knight Errant: Deluge.  Soon enough I’ll have worked my way out of my chronological deficit and back to the year 33 BBY.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Circa ????: The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural

Back in December of last year I commented on Dan Wallace’s Jedi Path, calling it the evolution of Star Wars literature and a harbinger of a new and different type of story-telling to make its way into the science fiction and fantasy genre. 

It seems I was right.
The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural, like The Jedi Path, (and soon to come Book of the Sith), follows in the line of this type of literature:  not a short story, not a novel, not a comic, but rather an artifact from the fantasy universe in which it lives.  I talked a lot about what I mean by this in my post on the Jedi Path.  You can read it here to understand what I mean when I say books like these are the next step in fantasy story-telling.

So, here we have in our hands, courtesy of Rob Chestney (its author) and Bioware, another artifact from the Star Wars universe.  The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural is not a fictional textbook like The Jedi Path, but a personal journal from a renowned Jedi Master of old.
It’s an absolutely wonderful book.  It’s ascetically pleasing, contains beautiful artwork, is well put together, and is tremendously fun to read.

Though The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural is an artifact from a fictional universe, and is a new form of story-telling to the Star Wars mythos, the fictional diary, which this is, is itself not new to the world of literature.  A quick look at Wikipedia under the heading of fictional diary will bring you to a rather extensive list of authors who have all used this medium to tell a story. 
As it is with these types of book I always like picking the brain of my friend AEM to see what he has to say.  Allow me to plug his website www.scriptcastle.com so you can get a sense of what he’s a little bit about.  Anyway, when I asked him about the fictional diary he had this to say: “One thing that is very interesting about the genre is how time works. You as the reader are essentially reading it as if you were writing it. You are reciting in your head the act of the diary keeper as though the two of you are conspiring to get it written down. So all past events that are explored in this narrative form are being explored in the present tense (so too is anything you read, but we as readers rarely if ever conspire with third-person omniscient voices, nor with first-person voices who are simply telling a story).”  He always has interesting stuff to say and that’s why I’m glad we are friends.

One of my personal favorite fictional diaries (and not one contained on the list I looked at) is the Amazing and Death Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman, by Paul Zindell.  It was a Christmas gift from my sister when I was a kid.  I remember I was pretty disappointed that my older sister got me a book for Christmas that year, and it sat on my bookshelf for a long while before I read it.  But after I read it I was glad I did.  It was a fun read.

As it is, the journal itself cannot be purchased through conventional means.  It is part of the Collector’s Edition package of the Old Republic MMO released by Bioware last month.  I regret I did not buy the Collector’s Edition, because I had to pick my copy up on Ebay.  Still, after shipping and handling I was in for only a little under 30 bucks, which in my estimation was money well spent for this book.  If you’re a fan of Star Wars literature but not a gamer, I recommend adding this book to your collection.  Last time I checked there were a few of them for sale on Ebay.  You never know, due to their exclusive nature they could be worth a few bucks far into the future.  Not likely, but possible.

I’ll move on to my reactions to the book.

I want to comment on a couple of things today, namely, the dating of the text, Gnost-Dural’s first entry, Padawans and the darkside, the Sith as a reaction to the Jedi, my previous predictions of the Sith emperor, intertextuality (yes, again), and Rob Chestney.

Firstly, I’ve found the dating of The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural difficult to understand.  His last entry ends with him on Tython rebuilding the Jedi Archives after the Treaty of Coruscant.  I can only make an educated guess that the last date referenced in the journal, which is written by Gnost-Dural as 21398.48.556, is also 3643 BBY, the year when the Old Republic MMO establishes its beginnings.  On Joe Bongiorno’s website he has The Old Republic MMO listed at 3643-3641 BBY. But a problem occurs when trying to determine what exactly 21398 actually translates to in terms of BBY.  When does Gnost-Dural, and the Republic and Jedi Order at this period in Star Wsrs history, mark as the beginning of time?   Is it the beginning of the Republic, which was 25,000 years before the Battle of Yavin?  If so, that would make the date 21359 (the first date entered) translate into 3641 BBY.  But that doesn’t make sense, because 3641 is that start of the Republic/Empire cold war.

I’m going to stop here, because I’ve totally confused myself now, and I’ve been staring at the book and my computer screen for a full 30 minutes and I can’t figure it out.  Can someone please figure out for me the dating of Gnost-Dural’s journal?

Moving on in my reactions, I absolutely loved Gnost-Dural's first entry into his journal, because I found it similar in spirit to my own initial entry to the Star Wars Chronology Project:

“Today I have decided to begin keeping a journal.  As Padawans, we are forced to spend a great deal of time in the Jedi Archives.  While some of my fellow pupils find this tedious, I find it to be absolutely fascinating – centuries of Jedi wisdom preserved in its purest form.  I expressed my appreciation for the Archives to Master Bestos, who suggested that if I were truly interested in history, I should begin keeping my own personal record. Though I never considered that I might contribute to the vast knowledge in the Archives, I begin this endeavour in just such a spirit.  Perhaps this may also be a convenient way to keep track of my studies for later reference” (4).

The Star Wars Chronology Project is my own little addition to the Jedi Archives that is the Star Wars cosmos.  I consider this blog, like Master Gnost-Dural, as a ‘convenient way to keep track of my studies for later reference’.  What is more, I’m very aware that this blog could last for many decades; indeed it could last until well after my death.  The internet is not disappearing anytime soon.  It will not degrade, it will not go away.  What one places on the internet could possibly last for longer than we might imagine.  What one writes on the internet could even conceivably be read by their grandchildren.  Freaky eh?
Furthering my reactions, and getting deeper into the text itself, I want to focus on what I find to be a very peculiar passage by Satele Shan, who is herself commenting on Gnost-Dural’s entries.  In his entry on the return of the Sith Empire, Dural gets into the story of the first time he heard of the Sith’s return to Republic space via the holonet.  Satele Shan takes this story further and references the tale of Master Barel Ovair and his infiltration of the Jedi Order.  The peculiar part comes when she says:

“I’ve been trying to find a way to ferret these traitors out, however deeply imbedded they might be.  Our best hope is a young Padawan under the tutelage of Master Nomen Karr who is showing signs of an amazing aptitude – the ability to sense the darkside in a person’s spirit.” (16).

What does she mean by spirit here?  Are Jedi of this time unable to sense the darkside at all, or can they sense it but just not focus it to a particular individual?  It does not make sense that the Jedi cannot sense the darkside in an individual, because in AOTC Yoda says to Dooku ‘the darkside I sense in you’.  Also, the choice of the word ‘sprit’ is very interesting, as this particular word carries with it heavy connotations.  Do the Jedi recognize beings as having a ‘spirit’ along with a corporeal body?  A soul?  Has something like this ever been mentioned in Star Wars history over the time period I have covered, because I’m not so sure it has.  Anyone else want to take a stab at interpreting this bit of text?
Another noteworthy comment in this text from both Satele Shan and Master Gnost-Dural is how they see the Sith as a reaction to the Jedi Order.  I remember in the Jedi Path Palpatine making a comment in the margins of page 150 saying “Yet the Sith are older and run deeper” to chief librarian Restelly Quist’s comment that the Jedi had over 24,000 years of accumulated wisdom.  Here, I think Shan, using the words of Dural sets the record straight:

“Gnost-Dural’s report, of which I only include a summary here, analyzed these events from a historical perspective, explaining how, in truth, the roots of the Sith Empire can be traced back to the Jedi Order” (46).
Any discussion of the Sith empire necessarily brings up the subject of the Sith emperor, the one who brought Sith civilization back from the brink of extinction after the Great Hyperspace War.  In a way, I feel sort of vindicated by The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural, because like him, I followed a similar line of logic in trying to determine the identity of the Sith emperor:

“Though I now have considerable doubt that the Emperor is the same person as the ancient Sith Lord Naga Sadow, I cannot prove otherwise.  Nonetheless, I must make the observation that despite historical records indicating that Ludo Kressh was killed in a suicide attack on his ship, his fate was never truly verified, and thus, there is also the possibility that he found a way to survive all these years as the Emperor” (53)

I proffered the idea that the emperor could Ludo Kressh back in July in a discussion with Lugija in the comments section on my post on the cinematic Return.  You can find that discussion here.  Though my suspicious pointed me to Kressh as a possible candidate for being the emperor, his survival coming via the essence transfer technique, I knew I would be shown to be wrong sooner or later, as events from the novel Revan gave us the emperor’s origin story.  Gnost-Dural also references the events from Revan, and comes to the conclusion that the emperor cannot be Kressh either.  Also, my essence transfer theory has fallen through as well.  The emperor has achieved his immortality through other means.   
On a smaller note, I know I’ve said many times in this blog that the literature of Star Wars is a massive work in intertextuality, as it seems all works of Star Wars are built on the works of other Star Wars books and authors, and The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural is no exception.  Satele Shan notes the actions of Aryn Leener after the events of the Treaty of Coruscant, and with this, Rob Chestney is making reference to Paul S. Kemp’s novel Deceived, which itself is based on the first cinematic produced by Bioware for the Old Republic MMO.  There is even a great picture on page 103 of Aryn Leener battling Darth Malgus, which is a great visual from the novel Deceived.

My last point of discussion in regards to The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural focuses on the Journal’s author, Rob Chestney.  I wonder if Chestney is poking fun at himself and his awful work The Threat of Peace.  In the last few pages of the journal, Satele Shan’s comments on the events that took place after the Treaty of Coruscant are funny.

“The bombing attack on the Senate Tower and the murder of Grand Master Zym were part of a bizarre series of events that took place in the weeks and months after the Treaty of Coruscant.  Most accounts of what occurred are muddled and confusing.  I myself was caught up in the events, and I can attest to the fact that the truth was just as convoluted” (104).

How true these words are. The Threat of Peace was indeed a bizarre series of events, and its account of these bizarre events was muddled and confusing.  The entire comic was convoluted.  But still, if Chestney was trying to poke fun at himself here, it’s nice to see he can have a sense of humor about it. 
Before I sign out I'll make some comments on the Old Republic MMO game itself.  I've been playing the game off-and-on since its release.  Im my last post I said I was a level 13 Imperial Agent, but after working through a darkside character I found myself uncomfortable with the idea of working for the Empire, which for me is rather funny.  Anytime I play an MMO I always enjoy playing the "bad guy".  The narrative of a villian seems so much more interesting.  But for some reason I was really bothered by the Empire in this game, and as I played through the class I ralized I really did want to see the Empire fall and the Republic emerge victorious.  I've also wondered if we, as players, are shaping the history of Star Wars.  Will our collective choices as players influence, in a democratic manner, what will be determained as cannon later on?  It would be neat if that were the case.  Anyway, I'm now playing a gunslinger on the Veela server.  My character name there is Black'beard.  Look me up if you're a player and we can game together.
For my next post I’m going to look at The Old Republic comic series The Lost Suns.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

3956 BBY - 3951 BBY: The Old Republic: Revan

Christmas break has been good to me as I was able to get through Drew Karpyshyn’s newest novel, Revan.  Unfortunately, I was not able to get in one last post for 2011, but perhaps this post will turn things around for me and hopefully be a harbinger of productivity for 2012.

I’m really not quite sure what happened this semester.  I was busy – much busier than usual.  I was staying back up to three hours every night marking and prepping.  For some reason, it was the busiest semester in my entire career, and I wasn’t even running any extracurricular.  I’m not sure if I was doing something right or wrong, but I really do hope things will settle down for me in the second semester.  I’ve been given three classes I’ve taught and prepped before, so hopefully it’ll mean and increase in my ability to work my way through the Star Wars Chronology Project.

Add to a busy work schedule the release of Bioware’s new MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I have a time management crisis on my hands.  I’ll talk more about this later on, but it quickly became apparent to me that I don’t have the time to do both.  Through at this point in time I’m a level 13 Imperial Agent, I’ve decided I can’t spend what precious moments I have to myself ignoring the SWCP and playing a Star Wars MMO, as fun as it is.  I’ve had bad experiences with MMO’s, and by bad I mean I become addicted to them.

But enough of my personal life, let’s get to my reactions to Revan.

I’ve organized my reactions to Revan in four categories that I found particularly interesting: the presentation of Sith and Jedi libraries, Sith and Nazi comparisons, the Emperor, and finally the explanation of Revan and Malak’s return from the Unknown Regions.

Firstly, I find there is an interesting disparity between how Sith and Jedi libraries are presented in Star Wars lore.  In Revan we are presented with Darth Nyriss’ library at the start of the novel:

“Yet here dozens – if not hundreds – of volumes filled the shelves on the left wall.  Most of the books were large and thick, their bound pages protected by covers of leather or some similarly cured hide… though Scourged guessed that not all of them were made from skin cured from mindless beasts.  They had an antiquated look about them, though most appeared to be preserved in good condition, if somewhat worn from use” (25). 

It seems that in 2000 years, fast-forwarding to the time of Darth Bane, nothing had changed for the Sith.  Like the books contained in Nyriss’ library, Bane leafed through the antiquated pages of the Sith library on Korriban, doing his best to unlock the ancient secrets of the darkside.  This description of Nyriss’ library reminds me of the books from Giles’ collection in the Buffy the Vampire series.  Giles always had an ancient tome of arcane knowledge that the “Scooby Gang” was always studying before they fought the next big evil.  Sith libraries or collections of written text seem to be always like that – knowledge contained in yellowed pages with leather bound hard covers, most likely inlaid with some sort of evil art.

That’s not to say that Lords of the Sith shunned technology to organize their knowledge, as we are told Nyriss also had holodisks, datacards, and a computer work station.  It just that in Sith culture knowledge of the darkside is not to be shared, copied, or given freely like in Jedi culture.  Knowledge is to be horded, protected, or otherwise carried to the grave.  I’m sure Nyriss’ holodisks contained knowledge of the darkside, but most likely common knowledge, or knowledge not worth protecting. 

In all my dealings with Sith culture thus far, this seems to be the most prevalent manner of how the Sith collect their teachings – ancient and arcane tomes of lost knowledge.  With that being said however, there are also Sith holocrons, but they are a rare commodity, something in stark contrast to the Jedi, which brings me to my next point.

If Sith libraries are arcane, dark, brooding, and the property of a sole owner, the Jedi’s libraries are the complete opposite.  Though nothing of the Jedi libraries are mentioned in Revan, I’m calling upon the presentation of Jedi libraries from the wider lore of the Star Wars saga, specifically the presentation of the Jedi archives from the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars CGI series, but more contemporary to the time of Revan, the presentation of the Jedi library on Tython.  During the Thanksgiving beta test I rolled a Jedi consular character in the SWTOR MMO.  In the SWTOR MMO the consular character received his training from the consular character in the Jedi archives.  The archives present in the academy on Tython are very similar to the Jedi archives in the prequel trilogy: bright, clean, open, and not owned by a sole individual, but shared among the collective.  Everything is collected electronically, with holocrons and computer stations being the most common form of archived knowledge.  Like I said before, the acquisition and distribution of knowledge in these two cultures are very different, and this difference manifests itself in the manner in which Sith and Jedi collect and share their knowledge with each other.

Moving on in my observations, my second point is only a small one – and obvious.  I found Karpyshyn’s characterization of Sith culture similar to Nazi Germany.  The Sith war machined rolled over other cultures and planets the same way Germany rolled over much of Europe.  Plus, in the SWTOR MMO the Sith are all dressed in snappy uniforms. The Sith, like the Nazi’s, have a sophisticated sense of uniformed style.

Notions of Sith style aside, what really excited me about this book was not its protagonist, but rather, what information would be given up regarding the enigmatic Sith Emperor.  In my opinion, this was the best part of the book.  Karpyshyn did not disappoint.  Early on in the book, Scourge makes reference to his Lord and Master, calling him the “Immortal, all powerful Emperor” (87). The best part about the emperor was his birth and childhood narrative.  But before I dive into that though, I thought it really neat that Tenebrae, and later Lord Vitiate, (meaning to corrupt, pervert, or weaken) the original names of the Sith Emperor, was from the planet Nathema, a reference to the word Anathema, meaning a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction. 

The tale of the Sith Emperor’s birth and childhood follow in direct antithesis to the birth and childhood narrative of Jesus and Buddha.  We are told that the Sith Emperor was born to a simple woman, like Jesus, and his mother’s husband was not his father – like Jesus.  In the case of the Sith Emperor, his father was the Sith Lord of his world, whom his mother had an affair with.  Upon learning of this, Tenebrae’s father attempted to kill his mother, but was instead killed by the son.  Tenebrae then turned on his mother eventually killing her as well.  Twisted or what?  In one of the greatest moments of the book, we are told

“He was born with eyes as black as the void of space, and that he never cried, even as an infant.  No animal would come near him, and when he began to talk, his voice carried a weight and power that should not come from a child” (153). 

In the birth narrative of Buddha, his mother Maya gave birth to him in the forest.  The trees, recognizing the great event, bent down to assist her, and she held to the branches of a tree while the Buddha (Siddhartha) was born without crying.  Upon exiting the womb, The Buddha could immediately walk and talk, and told everyone present he had arrived to end suffering.  Wherever he walked, lotus flowers bloomed in his footsteps.  In the Koranic birth narrative of Jesus, we are offered a story similar to Buddha’s but different from the Gospel accounts.  In the Koran, Mary gave birth to Jesus alone, in the dessert, no Joseph, no wise men, no manger, no guiding star, no Shepard’s – nothing. Holding on to a palm tree, alone, she delivered Jesus.  Muslims believe in the virgin birth like the Christians, and also believe Jesus was the son of God, a great prophet, and a great man, but not divine.  When Mary re-entered town with the child, she was nearly stoned to death for being an unmarried mother.  The baby Jesus then spoke in her defense, his voice loud and authoritative, telling all present that she was without sin, and that her child was delivered from the God most high.  All present dropped their stones, and left Mary to her child.  Karpyshyn’s back story to the Emperor did well setting up him up as some sort of anti-Christ, or evil incarnate – a nihilist of destruction.

My last point of conversation regarding Revan has to do with the explanation Karpyshyn gave for Revan and Malak’s return to the Republic from the Unknown Regions.  On the SWTOR website we are told by Master Gnost-Dural that Revan and Malak, after defeating the Mandalorians, had somehow traversed into Sith space, came upon the Emperor, and from that point on transferred their allegiances to the darkside.  They then re-entered Republic space as conquerors instead of heroes, and were the vanguard of the Sith Emperor’s invasion. These events were stopped as described in KOTOR 1, but this new information raised many questions, most notably why was there never any mention of a Sith empire and a Sith emperor in these original source texts.  The answer is simple: because Karpyshyn and the Bioware writing crew never really anticipated that there was going to be a need to fill in these blanks a decade later.  It was enough for the purposes of the story of KOTOR 1 that Revan and Malak returned to Republic space as conquerors and that was all anyone need to know.  I’m not sure anyone could have foretold the creation of a KOTOR MMO and the story which grew from its creation.  So here in Revan we have Karpyshyn trying to fill in some blanks, but unfortunately, not really well.  I’ll allow the story to speak for itself:

“But though we had underestimated the Emperor’s power, he underestimated us, as well.  Our wills were stronger than he thought; our minds twisted and perverted his instructions until we thought we were acting of our own accord.  Malak and I were turned to the darkside, but in doing so we found the strength to block out all memory of the Sith and the Emperor, partially freeing us from his control.” (256)

The literary term for this is Deus ex Machina, which means (as taken from Wikipedia) a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.  The contrivance here is an ability, in that Revan and Malak had the ability to block out all memory of the Sith and the Emperor. 

Is this sloppy writing?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure I could have come up with anything better, but I wonder if Karpyshyn wrote this on his own, or collaborated with the writing team at Bioware.  Still, I find the explanation weak.

Placing this explanation under the microscope, my first question is where did Revan and Malak think they got the armada they returned in? That was my first question upon reading the source Iridonian Darkness from the KOTOR sourcebook published by Wizards of the Coast.  How could they forget about the Sith Empire when evidence of its existence was all around them in their newfound ships, soldiers, and weaponry?

I don’t know.  Could a better explanation have been conceived?  Perhaps.  As it is, this is the explanation we Star Wars fans are going to have to live with.

I hate to end my reactions on a sour note.  I did enjoy Revan, as it was a great book that filled in many gaps from KOTOR 1 to KOTOR 2.

So with that, I want to focus my attention on filling in some of my own gaps in the SWCP.  Lots of sources have come to light since September, and I want your input into the correct order of my engagement with them.  Here’s what I have: Revan (check), The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural, The Old Republic: Lost Suns, Knight Errant: Deluge, Qui-Gon and Xanatos series, and Darth Plaguies.  Let me know if that order is chronologically correct.  Also, what would you all say the in-universe date of the Journal of Master Gnost –Dural would be?  I’m having some difficulty with it.

Until next time my friends, hopefully sooner rather than later, may the Force be with you.