Tuesday, March 6, 2012

32 BBY: Cloak of Deception

I know in my last post I said I would start with Queen in Disguise, then move on to Shadows of Coruscant, and finish with Cloak of Deception, but after reading all three texts I’ve decided to alter the order for two main reasons, both of which have to do with events in Cloak of Deception.  At the end of Cloak of Deception two main plot points which have a bearing on the following sources are established.  Firstly, at the end of Luceno’s novel Padme Amidala is newly established as the ruler of Naboo.  In Queen in Disguise we meet a Padme who seems to be already established as Queen, as part of the plot has her going undercover with her handmaidens, and we’ve given the impression that she’s been Queen for a while – not a long while, but for some time.  Secondly, in Shadows of Coruscant, we are told at the beginning of the RPG adventure that Valorum is mired in corruption charges – charges which are well established (though not alluded to in the RPG source) in Cloak of Deception.  Not only that, but there is a terrorist group gunning for the Chancellor’s head, and there is the general feeling in Shadows of Coruscant that the Republic is more unstable than usual, which can be chronologically explained by the events in Cloak of Deception.  So in case you were wondering, that is why I’ve decided to go Cloak of Deception now.
Cloak of Deception by James Luceno was a Star Wars novel I had trouble getting into.  I didn’t dislike the book, but for some reason I found it boring.  Even though it was about my favorite Star Wars character, Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious, it took me forever to get through. 

I’ve thought a little bit about why I feel this way.  It’s not that I think Luceno is a poor writer – he’s not, and the story was exciting enough – Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan chasing a space pirate and trying to stop the assassination of Chancellor Valorum – all fun stuff indeed.  But I guess I’d say the novel’s political intrigue was not very intriguing.  I suppose it’s difficult to get excited about a story when I already knew how it will end.  I already knew Valorum wouldn’t get shot, and I already knew Palpatine was puppetering the events, points of plot I understand are difficult to get around while writing in this particular timeframe of Star Wars history. 
Yet, with my complaints of boredom aside the novel did have high points for me, and it’s the high points I want to focus on.

One of the most fun aspects of this book were the many references Luceno made to other Star Wars works.  The first one I came across was a reference to King Veruna of Naboo.  Veruna, a character originally from Dan Wallace’s short story The Monster, is the monarch of Naboo who prior to the events of the invasion of Naboo found himself embroiled in a “scandal” – the nature of which is never directly revealed.  In Wallace’s The Monster, the most revealing information we find about King Veruna is that he may have “records concerning corruption at the highest levels of government”.  Namely, Veruna may have discovered a link between Palpatine and his alter-ego Darth Sidious.  At the end of The Monster, Pestage, Palpatine’s right hand man, removed some important evidence from a cave found by Lieutenant Panaka – much to the Lieutenant’s irritation.  In Cloak of Deception, we are told by Palpatine:

“Sadly, King Veruna finds himself enmeshed in a scandal.  While he and I have never seen eye to eye with regards to expanding Naboo’s influence in the Republic, I am concerned for him, for his predicament has not only cast a pall over Naboo, but also over many neighbouring worlds” (59).
The narrative I think being woven together here is that in retaliation for connecting some dots he shouldn’t have, Darth Sidious has set up King Veruna for a fall, much like he does to Chancellor Velorum at the end of Cloak of Deception. 

Continuing with the idea of Luceno making references to other author’s works, Dan Wallace wasn’t the only Star Wars scribe Luceno referenced in Cloak of Deception.  My head nearly exploded when Tim Zahn’s Jorus C’baoth entered the novel.  Waiting to receive their next mission outside of the Jedi Council chambers, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were discussing amongst themselves the location of Eriadu as the location for the taxation summit when the enigmatic Master disrupted their musings:

“They turned to find Jorus C’baoth watching them.  An elder human Jedi Master, C’baoth had a chiseled face, white hair as long as Qui-Gon’s and a beard three times as long” (152).
I think while I was reading this small passage containing C’baoth’s appearance my jaw was slacked the entire time.  I really did not see this coming.  But when I began to think about it, and tried to remember what I remember about the Thrawn trilogy, C’baoth’s appeared makes sense.  Of course he was around at this time.  Seeing his name in print in a Star Wars novel make me feel very nostalgic, and did make me want to revisit the Thrawn trilogy again, but I resisted the urge (I was going to flip through my graphic novel versions).  I want to re-engage with those texts in the proper context of the Star Wars Chronology Project.  Needless to say, I thought coming across Jorus C’baoth was totally awesome.

Another great reference to other Star Wars works was Luceno’s mention of Yaddle’s past from the story The One Below, written by Dean Motter.   The One Below is one of my favorite Star Wars Tales comics, as in my write-up on that particular text I called Yaddle an enlightened Buddha.  I also thought it neat that Luceno gave us Yaddle’s age:

“It was not the first time in her 476 years that the tiny Jedi had been imprisoned.  According to legend, she had ascended to the rank of Master as a result of having spent more than a hundred years in an underground prison on Korba” (187).
If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was Master Yoda who was reluctant to bestow upon Yaddle the rank of Knight upon her re-entry into the Jedi Order.  Yet after Evan Piell re-told Yaddle’s story to the Jedi Council, they all agreed that she should be recognized beyond Knighthood and be honoured with the title of Master. 

Moving on in my reactions, as I’ve mentioned in my blog before, Darth Sidious is my favorite Star Wars character, and Luceno did an amazing job with his characterization in this novel.  Luceno’s introduction of Palpatine/Sidious to the story is fantastic:

“Southern light, polarized by the transparisteel panels, flooded the room.  But Valorum’s sole guest had taken a seat well out of the light’s reach.  ‘I fear, Supreme Chancellor, that we face a monumental challenge,’ Senator Palpatine was saying from the shadows” (54).
My favorite bit here isn’t the fact that Palpatine is lurking in the darkness, even though that’s totally appropriate, it’s his first words in the novel ‘I fear’.  Yes.  That is what a Dark Lord of the Sith does best: fear.

A further example of the accurate characterization of Palpatine on the part of Luceno was the dark Lord’s mention of “adjustments”.  I said back in my post on Jedi Council: Acts of War how I admired Palpatine’s ability to twist any negative into a positive.  He has an uncanny ability to be the first in the room to react to uncertainty. He says as much to his apprentice Darth Maul in Saboteur: ““…But there is also the unforeseen. The power of the darkside is limitless, but only to those who accept uncertainty. This means being able to concede to possibilities”.  Palpatine echoes this refrain in Cloak of Deception:

“Palpatine’s seeming good humor didn’t falter.  ‘One must make adjustments as necessary.  Despite assiduous planning, not everything can be foreseen’” (251).
Before I break down my reactions to this line, I love the way Luceno uses language here, notably the words ‘assiduous planning’, which sounds a lot like ‘Sidious Planning’.  But I digress.  Again, referencing my post on Jedi Council: Acts of War, I talked about Palpatine’s ability to adjust to the unforeseen in relation to his final confrontation with Mace Windu in Revenge of the Sith. I think these lines, the one from Saboteur mentioned earlier and this one from Cloak of Deception holds the key to understanding Windu and Palpatine’s final confrontation in ROTS. Here’s what I said in that post in regards to Palpatine’s ability to be the first to adjust to the unforeseen:

“When Windu entered to arrest the Chancellor, Palpatine had already won, not because it was fate, or because he had so puppeteered events to this conclusion (and if you think this is the case 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! They’re attempting to usurp the power of the Republic and lead for themselves!  Help me and I can help you save the one you love!”…and Anakin turns.”
This line from Cloak of Deception I think further supports the idea that Palpatine’s greatest strength, beyond his ability to see four or five moves ahead of all his enemies, is his ability to react to his enemies moves he does not see coming.

Darth Sidious’ best line came at the end of the novel in a bit of dramatic irony.  Reveling in his recent victory, he warns the Nemodians of the tricky senator from Naboo:

“Sidious nodded.  ‘Senator Palpatine is adept at dissembling his real nature.  You scarcely realize how much damage he has already caused’” (343).
Love it!

My final topic of discussion has to do with the Jedi and the Sith.  Up until this point in the Star Wars Chronology Project, I don’t remember coming across an actual figure for the amount of Jedi present in the Order at any given time in history.  There may have been a number given at some point in one of the sources I’ve examined, but as I write this post I’m drawing a blank.  I mention this because Luceno gives us the number of the Jedi Order in 32 BBY as approximately 10,000:

“Ten thousand strong, their collective strength was such that they could rule the Republic if they so wished – if their dedication to peace was any less demonstrably earnest” (160).
I was simultaneously impressed by the largeness of this number and the meagreness of this number.  Ten thousand Jedi is indeed many Jedi, but when taken into consideration alongside the population of the galaxy, one realizes how rare a Jedi actually is.  But really, 10,000 Jedi do not seem like a lot, and I wonder at how much of the Republic’s taxation budget is actually spent on the Jedi order.  In the grand scheme of things, The Jedi Order must only take at most 1% of the Republic’s operations budget, considering at this point in history the Republic does not have a standing military.  Even if 10% of the Republic’s budget went to the Jedi Order, I’d say that such a price is still cheap, considering the service they provide.  A standing army (like the one imposed by Emperor Palpatine ten years in the future) could cost anywhere between 15-30 % of the Republic’s operation budget.  10,000 Jedi, even if they are being purposefully wasteful, could not really make a dent in the Republic’s annual spending – fancy starships and all.

As it is, shortly after this information is provided, there is mention of a Jedi and Sith conflict 2000 years in the past.  I wonder was Luceno making reference to Darth Ruin here:

“Two thousand years earlier, the Jedi had faced a menacing threat to continuing peace, in the form of the Sith Lords and their armies of dark-side apprentices.  Founded by a fallen Jedi, the Sith believed that power disavowed was power squandered.  In place of justice for all, they sought single-minded authority” (161).
From a Chronological perspective there is no primary source that elucidates the events of 2000 years before 32 BBY, but there are a bunch of secondary sources which reference this point in history.  Drew Karpyshyn’s article “Heritage of the Sith” from Star Wars insider #88 talks about the New Sith Empire founded by Ruin, which is what I think Luceno is making reference to here.  This “New Sith Empire” probably replaces the fallen Sith Empire of the Sith Emperor and the events of The Old Republic.  There are other secondary sources which talk about this period too:  The New Essential Chronology and Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force, to name a few.  But as I said, there is no primary source which takes us through the “menacing threat to continuing peace the Jedi had to face”.    

For my next post I’m going to take a look at the RPG source Shadows of Coruscant, and then the children’s book Queen in Disguise.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.


  1. Hmm, I had thought that you'd like Cloak of Deception more, given how much intrigue and manipulation by Sidious it features.

    Sorry about the timeline mixup, too. I've never read "Shadows of Coruscant," so I didn't know exactly where it goes, but I should have remembered that Queen in Disguise should be placed afterward. That was a stupid oversight on my part.

  2. This was the first Star Wars adult novel I ever read. I think I was 11 or something back then. Some of the words went completely over my head. But I enjoyed it, and I think I like it more every re-read.

    There is not yet any primary source telling the story of Darth Ruin, but last year there wasn't one for Darth Plagueis or the origin of the Jedi, and ten years ago the Clone Wars were off the table. I understand if the makers want to keep some of the history in shadows for now, to give the events proper spotlight when they get told.

  3. Plaristes, not stupid at all man. There is such a plethora of sources for this time period it's difficult to keep 32BBY’s entire event's straight.

    Honestly, I thought I'd love it too but I'm chalking-up my reaction to the headspace I was in. I wasn't really sitting down to read the book the way I normally do. I was reading bits here and there while on the go. It's a book I might revisit again, but not anytime soon.

    Lugija, how true. It's only a matter of time before this particular time period is explored. I'd be interested in seeing if The Makers (great term btw) somehow connect this time period of Darth Ruin, back to the Sith Emperor of The Old Republic.