Wednesday, August 26, 2009

4985 BBY: The Lost Tribe of the Sith: Paragon

The Lost Tribe of the Sith (Part 3)

This post is reserved for my reaction to the third part of the Lost Tribe of the Sith series. It is scheduled for release on February 9th 2010. Check back after this date.

February 21st 2010:

A Matter of Style is a book written by Matthew Clark, who was the director of my humanities thesis. His book examines the question: ‘what is good prose?’ The opening paragraph of his introduction states: “Good prose, like any art, is part mystery and part technique; both are needed, in varying proportions. Mystery is hard to teach, perhaps impossible. But technique can be taught, and if it is well taught, it can open a window onto the mystery” (Clark, IV).

The second chapter of his book considers the arrangement of words. He states: “Most of the interesting questions about style do not concern grammar, and do not have definitive answers. They are questions of taste, which can never be settled once and for all. Nevertheless, taste can still be discussed – and, I believe, developed to become more sensitive, more discriminating” (Clark, 14).

I’m quoting the work of my old university professor to support my dislike of JJM’s prose. I don’t want to state simply ‘I don’t like JJM’s prose’ and leave it at that. I want to explain why I don’t like it, and justify why I think JJM is not much of a writer.

I don’t like JJM’s prose because I find his diction needlessly unclear, his arrangement of words inadequate, and his technique awful. As I read his work I’m constantly left with the feeling that I’ve missed something, or there is something he’s not telling me.

Take, for example, this line: “They were out all afternoon again, the two of them. Tilden had told her that, and Seelah had other confidants who provided regular reports.”
This is just needlessly unclear.

If I were to write this, is would read something like: ‘Korsin and Adari were out all afternoon, once again. Tilden reported these excursions to Seelah, but she also had other confidants, besides Tilden, who provided regular reports.’

In JJM’s version, I have to figure out who he means by “they”, in the first line. This question is cleared up a few lines later, with the statement: “Korsin and the Kesheri woman”. But JJM further muddles the meaning of ‘they’ when he states the ‘Kesheri woman’ because ‘the Kesheri woman’ could be in reference to any Kesheri woman, not necessarily Adari. There is no fault in making the subject of a sentence perfectly clear. He could have simply stated ‘Korsin and Adari’. I find that JJM’s diction leaves the reader constantly second guessing their translation of events, and his “clarifications” of meaning are not really clarifications at all.

What is more, I then have to figure out who “her” is when it says “Tilden had told her that”. It’s not until the second half of the clause do I figure out that the subject of the sentence is Seelah, and indeed, it may or may not be Seelah. “Her” in this circumstance still could refer to some other female subject, even possibly Adari.

The Lost Tribe of the Sith series goes on like this, with cryptic sentences, and clauses with unclear subjects.

JJM is an excellent story designer in the big picture. I enjoy his work in the KOTOR comic series, but I’m now convinced he should turn his ideas over to a ghost writer who knows how to write. He’s clearly not a writer, but simply a plot designer.

Criticisms of JJM’s techniques aside, there are four areas I want to discuss with regards to this piece of Star Wars history. The first is the Tapani, the second is the characters of Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh, the third is the ideologies of the ‘Sith Empire’, and the fourth and final point of discussion is the ending of the story.

In The Lost Tribe of the Sith: Paragon, there is a brief mention of ‘the Tapani’: “Some Sith Lords, such as Naga Sadow, saw value in the work of the descendants of the original Tapani refugees”. (pg 10). In my discussions of JJM’s work with other Star Wars readers, they routinely commented on how this particular three part story has shed light on the Tapani. I, on the other hand, was left scratching my head. Who or what are the Tapani? I’ve read what I think are all Star Wars sources prior to this source, and in none of them have the Tapani ever been mentioned.

My excursions to Wookieepedia only further confused me. Apparently Tapani is a system which was colonized as far back as 13,000 BBY. The system was named after Shey Tapani who united the sector 1000 BBY. But I was privy to none of this information from a chronological perspective. I’ve obviously missed something. However, there is come consolidation for me. When I look at the sources that the Wookieepedia page drew upon for its information, the earliest source was JJM’s Precipice, and then a brief mention in the KOTOR comic series (which I obviously missed as well). Hopefully, with time, I’ll understand what was meant when JJM states “Sadow saw value in the work of the original Tapani refugees”. As of now I have no idea what this means.

Moving along, JJM provided interesting background to the tension between Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh. I especially liked how JJM justified Kressh’s desire to keep the Sith Empire hidden in the Stygian Caldera: “I have seen the holocrons—I know what waits beyond. My son looks like me—and so does the future of the Sith. “But only as long as we’re here. Out there,” he’d spat, between bloody punches, “out there, the future looks like you.” I find this idea of destabilizing the Empire by expansion similar to that which the Chinese have held throughout most of history. Kressh was worried, and it turned out rightfully so, that if the Empire went outside of its boarders, the Sith would no longer rule it, but instead be ruled by those it sought to conquer. The conquers being the conquered is something history has seen several times. The Romans were eventually over-run by the Germanic tribes it itself had defeated centuries prior. As the game KOTOR reminds their player during game-saving sessions: “The Sith ceased being a species, and instead became followers of an ideal”. Humans were once the servants in the Sith Empire, and later became its rulers.

I find the idea of a Sith Empire hard to rationally explain and justify, as, I think, does JJM. Prior to Kressh’s explanation as to why the Sith should stay put, JJM describes a scene for us where Kressh is using a “magical device to protect his young son.” This makes me question the “evilness” of this Empire, seeing Kressh in a more multidimensional role here as a caring father. JJM echoes this sentiment in the thoughts of Sheelah when he writes: “What did not make sense was why so many of her people—in her own family!—embraced the Sith teachings when they had no hope of advancement. Why would a Sith live as a slave?” Indeed, why would a ‘Sith’ live as a slave. The answer is a “Sith” wouldn’t. JJM is trying to make the sith empire make sense, but I’m not sure it can. I’m not sure any writer could make the Sith Empire make sense for me. It’s like the dimension of pure evil – how does mail get delivered in this dimension?

It was a movie called “Event Horizon” where my buddy asked this question. A crew of spacefarers enters a “dimension of pure evil”, and my buddy asked ‘how did this dimension even get to its current state?” He went on to ask “How did the first humans not just all turn on each other, killing one-another, and thereby destroying the dimension at its inception? – There has to be, at some base level, some co-operation, recognition of mutual dignity, and ‘treaties’ where people don’t try to annihilate each other in a frenzy of ‘pure evil’” Needless to say, when the idea of the ‘dimension of pure evil’ roused it’s ugly head in this movie, he declared ‘I’m out!”

On the car ride home he was still pissed-off at this idea, and he turned to me and said ‘how does mail get delivered in ‘the dimension of pure evil? There had to have been, at some point in the history of this dimension, a mail delivery system. What prevents the mail-man from ringing your doorbell, and shooting you in the face when you answer?” I just shrugged my shoulders. I was extremely amused at how much this idea pissed him off. 13 years later, and we still talk about Event Horizon and ‘the dimension of pure evil’.

Getting back to my point on the Sith Empire, it’s a little like ‘the dimension of pure evil’. It just can’t possibly work out.

Finally, I enjoyed the end of this series. I enjoyed how it was Adari Vaal who was at the heart of the mass deaths on Kesh, and it was her own secret attempt at wiping out the skyborn. I enjoyed how the story ended with the words of Adari: “I brought this plague upon us. And I will end it”.

I’m glad to be done with the Lost Tribe of the Sith series. They were an interesting bit of Star Wars history, which I know will play a significant role down the line, but I’m glad to be done with them.

Since this post was actually written on February 20th, and not August 26 2009, I’m going to back-fill another one of my posts, and move on to JJM’s last two issues of the KOTOR comic series. Until next time my friends, may the Force be with you.


  1. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there's been a fourth Lost Tribe e-book announced, titled "Savior."
    As for the Tapani, they were an obscure group of people introduced by West End Games in some of their rpg books. They haven't appeared much in more mainstream sources (e.g., novels and comics), so most fans don't know much about them, and even in the WEG books, there's plenty that isn't explained.

  2. Lovely, a fourth book. Am I the only one who feels this way about JJM's writing?

    I remember coming across Tapani sourcebooks back in the late 90's when I used to play the WEG D6 system. Does Joe include them in his chronology? I don't remember seeing them.

  3. I don't think they're on Joe's timeline. With the exception of some recent material and a few obscure items, the only category of stuff that isn't fully represented in his timeline is rpg materials. He's got a lot on there, but there's a ton more. He just hasn't had the time to track all of these down and add each scenario, although he hopes to eventually include everything. On the other hand, I've never read those Tapani WEG books, so they may not actually include any stories.
    As for JJM, I've never seen anyone else dislike his writing as much as you do. Some people gush over his skills. I think I lean in your direction, in that I think his ideas are great, and I love how far in advance he plots things out, but his actual prose isn't that great. I'm looking forward to his upcoming Knight Errant comics, but not so much for the tie-in novel, basically because I'm not a big fan of his prose.