Friday, January 25, 2013

32 BBY: End Game

Though I truly enjoy Luceno’s work, I wasn’t a fan of having to buy the novelization of The Phantom Menace.  I now have three copies in my collection.  A paper-back I picked up for a quarter at the library’s discount cart, a hardcover given to me by my sister (she’s a librarian has been ordered by me to take all Star Wars material off the discount cart), and now the edition which holds Luceno’s short story End Game. I only have so much shelf space. 
But enough of my complaining – on to my reactions to End Game, Luceno’s latest addition to the Star Wars mythos.  For my post today I’m going to comment on Luceno’s inclusion of video games, Darth Plaugeis, and the survival of Darth Maul.

To begin, End Game was a great read, and as is the hallmark of Luceno’s style he seamlessly wove together other stories from Star Wars mythology into his own.  In End Game, many other sources were referenced, Restraint and The Wrath of Darth Maul being the two literary works receiving the most attention.  Yet what I most enjoyed about this story was the inclusion of the narratives from The Battle for Naboo and Galactic Battlegrounds, video games sources which are usually relegated to the fringes of Star Wars canon.  It's not often that Star Wars video games receive any kind of attention in the literary world of the Expanded Universe, but in Luceno’s Star Wars they do, and I think that’s awesome.
The first video game Luceno makes reference to is Battle for Naboo, and what makes its inclusion into this narrative so great is that it’s not simply mentioned with some throwaway line, a quick wink from Luceno to the audience letting us know he’s familiar with the source, but he included a good portion of the story of the Security Forces’ resistance.  As Nute Gunray’s reported to Darth Maul, updating him on events outside of Theed, the Sith acolyte paced aggressively:

“’Several members of the Queen’s Security Forces managed to elude our battle droids,’ Gunray was saying in wheeling Basic. ‘They rescued a group of Naboo captives, and caused us some concern on an orbital station and at one of our plasma transshipment sites on the surface.  Fortunately for us – and unfortunately for them – the Naboo fell in with a visiting Hutt who happens to be in our employ.  He betrayed their plans and location.’  ‘They’re dead or imprisoned?’  Maul stopped to ask.  ‘The captain is dead.  Some of the others are still at large’” (347-348).
The Hutt mentioned here is of course Borvo, and the dead captain is Captain Kael.  Remarkably, for some reason Luceno’s inclusion of this felt like a minor personal validation – that yes, I’m not wasting my time on these sources – and yes, they are important to a complete and nuanced understating of the Star Wars story.

Luceno continued in this way, bringing into the tapestry of his narrative another string from a video game source: Galactic Battlegrounds and “The Epic Adventures of OOM-9” as I like to call them.  Amazingly, Maul held some mild respect for this droid, impressed with the commanding droids ability to form and lead a military operation:

“Its chest plastron emblazoned with yellow markings, OOM-9 boasted multiple antennae and a backpack that boosted its operational range.  Maul knew the droid had been tasked with spearheading the occupation and was credited with having razed Naboo communications centres at New Cardiff and Vis, as well as having secured the cities of Harte Secur, Spinnaker, and Theed.  From a captured mariner in Harte Secur, OOM-9 had learned of a Gungan bubble city called Rellias, but its forces had thus been unable to locate the city” (351).
The very specific reference being made here is from mission 2 from the game, where you as the player lead OOM-9 against Naboo’s resistance.  I can only conclude Luceno has an intimate knowledge of the game, which is why he is such a fan favorite.  His knowledge makes his works more authentic.

But it gets even better, as Luceno makes reference to a particular skirmish in which Darth Maul was personally involved with.  I can’t remember which  mini quest within the grater narrative  of mission 2 specifically it was (maybe somewhere between mission 2.4-2.7), but towards the end of mission 2, you get to play Darth Maul as he leads a battalion of Trade Federation droids against some Gungan settlements and fortifications.  Incredibly, that skirmish is cited in End Game:

“With the S-DST approaching the straits, Maul saw that stone fortifications had been erected on both fingers of land, and that from behind those bulwarks spheres of faintly blue energy were being lobbed into the sky, decimating STAP patrols.  As the destroyer drew closer to the sandy shore, hundreds of orange and purple-skinned Otolla Gungans appeared at the top of the walls, armed with energy lances and so-called plasmic boomers that could be hurled from baskets worn over one hand.  Surfacing from the suddenly turbulent waters came a fleet of organically grown submersibles, whose weapons began to target the destroyer with orbs of destructive power” (362).
The rest of Luceno’s narrative goes on to describe the battle in accurate detail, describing Maul hacking down Gungans mounted on Kaduu.  Again, Luceno’s intimate knowledge of the Star Wars  universe outside of just the written EU is remarkable.  He raises the bar for other Star Wars writers I think. 

Moving on in my reactions, what also caught me off guard in this story was the revelation that Darth Plagueis was still alive during the occupation of Naboo (I have yet to read Darth Plagueis remember) and that Maul began to slowly realize that his own Master, which he thought controlled everything, was himself being controlled. This revelation took me by surprise, as I thought Darth Plagueis had been killed long ago by Darth Sidious:

“…Maul asked himself: Had Sidious ever described himself as the only surviving Sith Master?  Was it possible that this mysterious Muun, Hego Damask, was also a Sith Lord, and that Maul – while given the title lord by Sidious – was in fact something less than a true Sith?  Was that why, unlike Sidious, he had never been granted a secret identity comparable to his Master’s guise as Palpatine?  Was Maul, then, ultimately expendable to the Sith Grand Plan – a mere stealth agent and assassin?” (362).
The sad thing about this revelation for Darth Maul is the truth behind his musings.  He is indeed, at least at this point in history, a mere stealth agent and assassin. 

What is more, the interaction behind this revelation is very cool as well.  Maul is sent to a former agent of King Veruna named Magneta to gather information, and it is through this agent that he serendipitously learns of Hego Damask.  When Magneta says to him “Be sure to give my regards to the Muun” Darth Maul’s worldview comes crashing down. Truly, the Darth Maul of 32 BBY is a pitiable character.

However, we are not to pity him forever.  We now know that Maul survived his confrontation with Obi-Wan Kenobi, and at the end of End Game, as he falls to the samber of Kenobi, he promises to not make the same mistakes:

“The power of the darkside had played a cruel trick on him.  And that it had, said it all…Cut in two and falling, Maul thought: If I had to do it over again, I would keep that fact foremost in mind.  But he was determined to be more lenient with himself than Darth Sidious would be.  He would survive his defeat, and grant himself yet another second chance” (375).
The million dollar question, for me at least, is how, exactly, did Maul survive?  For the answer to this I need to turn to a source I have yet to look at, The Wrath of Darth Maul by Ryder Wyndham. What irritated me most about reading End Game was that I have yet to read The Wrath of Darth Maul, and there was a lot of material from that book referenced in this one, namely Maul’s history on Orsis that was blowing right over my head.  Yes, some of the Orsis content was covered in Restraint, but there were other aspects that weren’t.  What is more, Joe has yet to place this source on his timeline. There were a few times while reading this story that I felt out of the loop, or that I didn’t know what was being referenced.  If I remember correctly I think I resolved to read The Wrath of Darth Maul when I get to the Clone Wars material, but for the purposes of End Game I regret that decision. 

As it is, I had to turn to Google to get the answer on how Maul survived, and I was brought to a post on the Old Republic forum, where a poster there included an excerpt from The Wrath of Darth Maul wherein he quoted the narrative of the first few moments after Maul’s bisection.  As taken from that post:

“No.  And as he fell, the upper half of his body separated from the lower.  No.   As his remains tumbled down the generator shaft, he kept his eyes open and fought to remain conscious. But then his head struck the shaft's wall, and everything went dark. No!  His mind screamed. Despite everything he had learned about death and duty from his Master, Maul knew he was not yet ready to die. Not after so many years of training, and with so much more to accomplish. Not so long as he still has do much hatred within him.  Obi-Wan ruined me!  He willed himself to see. A moment later, his vision returned. The shaft's walls were a disorienting blur. Across the shaft he sighted his own black-clad legs, scissoring lifelessly at the air as they fell. He struggled to right his torso so he could see downward. Can't die!” He fell past an oval shadow, and then a similar shadow raced by, along with a whooshing sound. Air vents. Maul hoped that there was at least one more vent below, that it would be large enough to accommodate his diminished body. He extended his arms, and his left hand's fingertips suddenly burned with friction as they brushed against the cylindrical wall.  Must live! Hoping, wishing, praying for one more air vent...Must kill Obi-Wan! ...he reached out with the Force.”
Since the original poster did not include the page number I’m not sure from where in the text this is lifted, but the answer to how Maul survived his fall is still rather murky.  What we do know is that Maul was still scheming as he fell, and like Luke on Bespin, managed to work his way into an air vent and not come crashing down on some cold hard surface.  Once in the vent, he “reached out with the Force”.  But to do what exactly?  And in what manner did he reach out?  Here I turn to the words of Dave Filoni, and an interview he gave at, where commenting on Maul’s survival he quoted Sidious’ words from Revenge of the Sith:

               “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities, some consider to be… un-natural”
Indeed it is, but still, I needed more.

The poster at the Old Republic forum, after quoting from Windham’s work, called upon two other examples of Sith Lords in history who managed to keep their body’s in-tact after suffering being cut into pieces.  The first was Darth Simus, a Sith lord from 5100 BBY who managed to survive his head being cut off by Marka Ragnos.  Yet still, the specifics of his ability to survive were rather vague as well.  All it said on his Wookieepedia page is that: “Rather than letting himself die, he used his forgotten Sith powers to preserve his life.”  But what “forgotten powers”, exactly, are we talking about here?

The other Sith mentioned is Darth Sion – the third member of the Sith Triumvirate from KOTOR II.  At his Wookieepedia page, a little more can be gleaned on how he has survived certain death all those years:

“Rather than die, though, Sion found that by calling on his pain, anger, and hatred, he could rise from certain death and achieve immortality, at the cost of all-consuming agony. With a body fractured and decomposing, but held together by the dark side of the Force, Sion survived the Great Sith War.”
Did Maul call on his own pain and anger to survive?  I think he did, and like Darth Sion, managed to keep himself alive.  But the cost was his sanity.  Yes, the darkside saved him, but it also broke him.

Still, did these three Sith Lords all call upon the same “forgotten power”? Was there more to it than calling upon their pain and hatred?  I think there was, and here I proffer an idea that Darth Maul, the “mere stealth agent and assassin” had a trick up his sleeve – Sith Incantation. 
Maybe in all that training on Orsis, and Mustafar, or wherever else Maul may have been trained, he managed to get his hands on some forbidden knowledge – something Sidious never wanted him to learn.  Maybe Maul got his hands on a scroll – something that would have been in his Master’s possession.  Maybe Maul got his hands on the works of Sorzus Syn, or one of the volumes of Sith alchemy and magiks Darth Bane gave to Darth Zannah and learned the ancient art of Sith incantation.  Maybe Darth Maul got his hands on The Book of Sith:

“The abilities described in the ancient Sith language are new and astonishing… When a Sith sorcerer speaks, he gives voice to the thousand mages who went before him.  If armed with the proper commands and trappings, the darkside can be bound, leashed, and led down any path of your choosing” (45). 

Maybe these three Sith chose life in exchange for pain, and kept their bodies intact.
These words are taken from the first section of The Book of the Sith, Dan Wallace’s fantastic follow-up to The Jedi Path.  The section quoted above was written by Sorzus Syn one of the Jedi Exiles who took part in Hundred-Year Darkness – an ancient Sith alchemist and magician.

Could Darth Maul have a little bit of sorcerer in him?  I’m not sure, but maybe.  He seems full of surprises lately, that Darth Maul.

For my next post I’m going to look at Ari Marmell’s short story Reputation from Star Wars Insider’s October 2012 edition.  On a side note, I’m doing fairly well playing my way through The Phantom Menace video game.  With my Christmas money I bought a used PS2 and a PS1 memory card (yeesh, I sound like such a kid), along with the PS1 version of The Phantom Menace from EBay.  I’m currently on the Otoh Gunga level.  It’s fun – more fun than I thought it would be.
Also, my daughter was born two days ago.  That makes three for me (two sons and a daughter).  She and her mother are doing well, and I’m very excited to have a little girl.  Before she knows it she’ll be a Star Wars fan girl.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace by John Whitman

John Whitman’s adaptation of The Phantom Menace was one of the sources I bought begrudgingly for this project.  Before I received it in the mail I considered it another fluff piece added to the cacophony of sources surrounding the release of The Phantom Menace; however, after going through it I’m glad I bought it.  It has two neat qualities to it that make it a little different than everything else concerning The Phantom Menace that was released at this time. 

Firstly, its size is very small. Measuring four and a quarter inches in both height and length, and one and a quarter inches thick, it was not at all what I imagined it to be when I ordered it on Amazon.    When I received my tiny little package in the mail I was confused.  When I opened the package to find a tiny yellow version of The Phantom Menace sitting in the palm of my hand I was both irritated and intrigued.  As I flipped through its pages, its second remarkable quality jumped out at me: Brian McKinney’s art.
By far the best aspect of this book is McKinney’s art.  Every other page has a simple and elegant piece of art concerning the action in the story.  My favorite piece was on page 293, where Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi come up against Darth Maul in the hanger.  I’ve included a picture from page 7 of the book below.  I wanted to scan the picture I just mentioned, but my scanner quit right after I managed to capture this image.

Story wise there is nothing to comment on.  It’s a simplified adaptation of the film.
For my next post I’m going to look at Luceno’s latest addition to this part of Star Wars history, End Game.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

32 BBY: Invasion of Theed

The Invasion of Theed Adventure Game is something I’d love to run if I get my Star Wars RPG club up and running again.  Since I’ve moved schools I haven’t run the Star Wars RPG club, I’ve poured my energies elsewhere.  But maybe next fall I’ll run it for a semester and see what the response is like.  If I do, I’ll offer up this particular adventure game and see who is interested in playing a Phantom Menace campaign.  Even though this is a D20 system (a system I have yet to find compelling) this series made it seem easy to play.  At my last school I ran a Bounty Hunter campaign with the D6 sourcebook, No Disintegrations.  That was a heck of a lot of fun, and the students were totally into it.  It was a motley crew of pirates, smugglers, and hunters with unique backstories, each student developing their character’s own distinctive past.

Likewise, the principal characters in this series of adventures are equally compelling.  They are basically a crew of university students all studying at Theed’s Royal House of Learning. We meet again the Jedi Padawan Rann I-Kanu, the solider Garak, the scoundrel Arani Korden, and the Wookiee scout named Rorworr (The four main characters from the Smugglers of Naboo adventure).  Also entering Star Wars history again are Sia-Lan Wezz, also a Padawan, Deel Surool, Toba the Gungan scout, and Dane (a new character I have yet to come across I think), one of Amidala’s handmaidens in training.  Both Rann I-Kanu and Sia-Lan Wezz have been sent by their respective Masters Lo-Jad and Ali-Vor for further study and training.

Anyway, the Invasion of Theed Adventure Game ran through 5 quests, and interestingly, the last exploit did not culminate with the Queen’s arrival to capture the Viceroy – those events were contained in adventure 4.  I found the last adventure the most fun and interesting, mostly because it wasn’t a part of the regular narrative of The Phantom Menace.  In the last adventure the heroes are to either capture or drive off a dark renegade by the name of Savor Kibbs who is hiding in the wilds of Naboo.  Kibb’s is described as:

“…[a former Padawan] rejected by the Jedi Council but nevertheless possesses a powerful link to the Force…with a few dark side powers to call upon and a reconfigured destroyer droid in his arsenal” (24).
The three scenarios in adventure 5 running up to the encounter with Kibbs are deadly, and if playing through this entire adventure game and getting to the fifth quest I wouldn’t be surprised if some heroes do not make it.  The mostly deadly aspect of adventure 5 was scene 2 (even more deadly than the illusionary encounter with Darth Maul), where the heroes had to traverse over some quicksand.  First, to avoid the quicksand the heroes must make a saving throw of 15 (which is very difficult), and if they fall into the quicksand, their chances of escape grow increasingly difficult:

“Anyone in the quicksand must make a Will saving throw each round to avoid panic and keep from struggling.  The difficultly is 10 the first round, and it increases by 1 each round thereafter (11, then 12, then 13, and so on)” (27).
If they make it out of the quicksand alive, they move on to my favorite part of the entire adventure: the encounter in the Dark Grove.  In this encounter, the heroes must battle a mutated tangler equipped with shooting thorns and choking vines.  The reason I enjoyed this scene is because it reminds me a lot of the episode in The Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo and crew are rescued by Tom Bombadil in the Old Forest.  Though the heroes in this adventure must save themselves, I find it interesting that such a forest exists on Naboo; the forest which brings to mind the “dangerous and mysterious forest” motif often found in literature, the forest that represents a place of emotional crisis and character development.     Once the heroes come out of this encounter, they may feel perhaps that nothing can stop them.

The Invasion of Theed Adventure Game was somewhat fun to read, but probably more entertaining and interesting if one were to play through it.  As with all the RPG sources I cover in this blog, if you have personally played this game, please, leave your story here in the comments below and tell me how it went.  I'm genuinely interested in hearing people's stories that have actually played through one of the RPG scenarios I’ve covered. 

For my next post I’m going to take a quick look at John Whitman’s The Phantom Menace, a small but surprisingly remarkable book, and then I’m going to look at two additional sources not cited in my post Handling 32 BBY: End Game, a new short story about Darth Maul found in the reprint of The Phantom Menace novel, and the short story Reputation, which takes place shortly after the invasion of Naboo.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Friday, January 4, 2013

32 BBY: Battle in the Streets

When I read Battle in the Streets, a Wizards of the Coast RPG mini adventure, I imagined that the principal characters were Deel, Arani, Sia-Lan, and Rorworr from Battle for Theed, a three page RPG mini comic I looked at earlier.  You can find my thoughts on that piece here.  As it is, the scoundrels Dell and Arani, the Jedi Padawan Sia-Lan, and the Scout Rorworr are now the go-to stand-ins for me when dealing with this series of particular RPG adventures. 
At first, I thought Battle in the Streets was the continuation of Battle for Theed, but after a second look at Battle for Theed, Battle in the Streets is simply another episode in the “Occupation of Theed” storyline.  I don’t think Battle in the Streets is a continuation for Battle for Theed (nor do I think anyone was trying making this claim) because at the end of Battle for Theed, when the four characters come around a corner after breaking through a security door, the droid tagging along with the heroes makes the remark “That’s not possible”, which makes no sense if they come around the corner to see a droid starfighter on all fours about to murder random Nabooian civilians, which in the scenario of the Trade Federation’s occupation of Naboo, is totally possible.

So, taking into account the last sentence, Battle in the Streets is a small RPG narrative where presumably four heroes battle a starfighter droid about to kill some civilians.  It’s the heroes’ job to stop the droid, but what the players don’t know is that they are seven rounds away from Anakin destroying the droid control ship.  They have to survive 6 rounds of the droid blasting at both the heroes and civilians, and once the seventh round comes along the GM has to roll a 20 (on a 20-sided die) for the droid to shut down.  If a 20 in not rolled, then at the start of the next round the GM has to roll a 19 or 20 for the droid to shut down.  By the 8th round, the GM has to roll an 18, 19, or 20, and so on, until either the desired numbered is rolled by the GM to stop the droid, or the heroes manage to destroy the droid themselves (which seems highly unlikely).  Honestly, is seems like an adventure heavily stacked against the heroes.  Maybe one of them is packing a thermal detonator prior to approaching the palace and having to deal with this large Transformer.

Still, the story was all-in-all a neat little adventure.
For my next post I’m going to look at the entire Invasion of Theed RPG book.  I’ve had it for a while and I’ve been looking forward to reading it.  It even comes with a Rorworr action figure, which is tremendously cool.  Though I’ve had to keep this treasure hidden from my son least he rip Rorworr from his mint condition packaging.  I don’t know why I feel guilty about this, but I do.  Anyway, until then my friends, may the Force be with you.