Thursday, December 30, 2010

Circa 300 - 100 BBY: The Apprentice: Star Wars Tales Volume 5

I’ve made my way back to the path I deviated from many months ago, and I’m ready to engage with Star Wars history in its correct chronological order once again.

We’ve moved ahead somewhere between 371 and 571 years in Star Wars history, away from the Pirate Prince of Xim, and towards the end of a great galactic conflict between the Jedi and the Sith. The Apprentice, found in Star Wars Tales volume 5, is a concise comic short that tells the story of a small aspect of the darkside of the Force.

Set sometime between 300 to 100 BBY, Master Finn, a Sith Master and terrorist who “operated during the final years of the New Sith Wars” (wookieepedia) defines Sith philosophy in terms of a negative relation to Jedi teaching: “Empathy leads to understanding. Understanding leads to compassion. Compassion leads to love. There is no place for love for a Sith. Only hate.” These, or course, are Master Yoda’s words played in reverse.

Master Finn’s less-than-Sith-like apprentice learned this lesson the hard way, and was summarily ‘out-eviled’ by an apparent slave girl.

Wookieepedia states that this story occurred during the end of the New Sith Wars, or Draggulch period, an epoch in Star Wars history that has not been explored in any exhaustive detail. This period in history is defined by a “thousand year conflict between the Jedi and the Sith” a “spectacular rise of the Sith” and “a growing militancy in the Jedi Order”. The story of The Apprentice can then be book-ended by the Knight Errant series by JJM – the latter occurring at the beginning of this immense Jedi/Sith conflict – a story which itself gives credence to the line ‘a growing militancy in the Jedi Order’.

As it is, Master Finn’s apprentice – weak willed and prone to Jedi mind tricks – is summarily dumped from the top of a building by a “slave girl” he was attempting to rescue like a lost puppy. She then, deservedly, becomes Sith Master Finn’s new apprentice. Like I said, Finn’s apprentice was not very Sith like. Surely his fate would have been better had been recruited into the Jedi Order. Finn’s apprentice seemed like a confused young man, wanting to be an anti-hero, yet more afraid of the goodness within him than the empty existence awaiting him down the path of the darkside. Finn’s apprentice seems like a young man who was “searching for a Yoda”, to use the words of Dick Staub, but instead found a Charles Manson.

Brief and satisfying, these comic shorts are like a perfectly made cup of coffee drunk at 2pm in the afternoon.

For my next post I’m going to engage with Legacy of the Jedi, and skip past the flashbacks in-between. Until then my friends, have a happy New Year, and may the Force be with you.

Monday, December 27, 2010

4904 BBY: Rise of the Sith Empire

I think it’s important to talk about this timeline in its proper historical context at circa 4904 BBY (its in-universe date is listed at 1251 BTC), as this timeline truly re-colours Star Wars history as we know it. Situated 96 years after the Great Hyperspace War (otherwise known as the Fall of the Sith Empire – for both titles explain the same historical period in Star Wars history), and 5 years before Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon, the Rise of the Sith Empire tells the story of what happened to the Sith species of Korriban after their defeat by the Republic and Naga Sadow’s failed invasion of the Galactic Republic.

In this timeline Master Gnost-Dural makes the distinction between the “Sith Lords” who were threating the Republic prior to the “True Sith Empire” revealing itself in 3681 BBY, and all other “Sith” civilizations. Gnost-Dural goes on to explain that these “Sith Lords” who existed outside of the prevue of the “True Sith Empire” were instead “fallen Jedi” falsely claiming to be “Sith Lords”. As these Fallen Jedi – Ajunta Pal, Exar Kun, and the like – were threatening the Republic, the “true” Sith – the biological descendants of the Sith species from Korriban long thought extinct – were exiled from Korriban and for many decades were wandering space as fallout from the Great Hyperspace War. Master Gnost-Dural tells us that these Sith eventually settled and were now thriving on Drummond Kas under the leadership of their enigmatic emperor.

It’s not really necessary that I rephrase the timeline, suffice to say that the distinction between the Sith which came before 3681 BBY, and the Sith now occupying the time period after the Treaty of Coruscant until about 2000 BBY are distinct entities – not necessarily different in philosophy or worldview or ultimate purposes – but distinct creatures none-the-less.

Gnost-Dural also makes it clear that the citizens which were part of this empire considered themselves Imperialists, and for the remainder of the timeline he goes into the history of Grand Moff Odile Vaiken – the architect of the Sith fleet. But it’s the idea of Sith citizenry I want to focus on, for it’s clear that the citizenry of the Sith Empire stood behind their emperor and His expansionist agenda: “But the dedication of the Imperial people must be acknowledged as well…He (the emperor) promised to build a new civilization of unrivaled efficiency. And he promised his people vengeance. His promised them an empire destined to dominate the galaxy. An empire destined to bring about the Republic’s destruction”. With this timeline I think important motivations are cleared up, as one could rightly ask ‘what does the ‘regular Joe’ in the Sith empire have to gain, if he is simply a subjugated individual’? It seems the “True Sith Empire” is made up of red-skinned Sith who also have a stake in the Republic’s destruction, and for the most-part are not treated as slaves, but as productive members of society. I’m not sure the same can be said of humans though.

Interestingly, Gnost-Dural also points out that the humans existing in the “True Sith Empire” (and presumably other alien species) were considered second class citizens: “Vaiken’s story represents the surprising loyalty the imperial citizens show to an empire which they will always be subservient to the Sith”. This is intriguing because all other “Sith” civilizations we know of: the Sith which are descendant of Yaru Korsin, and the Galactic Empire under Palpatine for example, were speciesist towards all non-humans, as anyone considered non-human was usually treated as a second class citizen. It seems in the “True Sith Empire”, this role has been reversed.

Besides the idea of Sith citizenship, two other aspects of this timeline caught my attention. Firstly, is that the emperor shown on the bridge of the ship while Vaiken was a boy? My instinct tells me it’s not, but rather one of his generals or other some-such high ranking Sith soldier. Still, I wonder who that particular character is. Secondly, we are told that Vaiken (shown as an older and graying man) died in an Imperial campaign to conquer an alien system. I found this wildly remarkable, as the natural question is who were these aliens, that they can stand up to the Sith armada? The Yuzzhan Vong perhaps?

For my next post I’m going to look at the comic short The Apprentice from Star Wars Tales volume 5 and finally work my way back to discovering Star Wars history in its proper chronological order. I’ve also decided to ignore chronological excerpts that are flashbacks. For example, Joe has listed as the next source after The Apprentice is a flashback in Yaddle’s Tale, but I’ve decided that I only want to deal with a source once (The Essential Guide to the Force being the exception to this rule), so all sources with flashbacks will be dealt with in the majority of when their timeframe occurs. So with that being said, the next source after The Apprentice I’ll deal with is the book Legacy of the Jedi, but not simply chapters 1-6 as Joe has properly delineated. Instead, I’ll engage with the book in its entirety. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

990 BBY: The Jedi Path

With the book The Jedi Path by Dan Wallace we are witness to the evolution of Star Wars literature.

This type of book is not the first of its kind, as in this post I’m going to look at what The Jedi Path is, and try to make sense of this relatively new literary creature. At the very least The Jedi Path is a harbinger of things to come from the literary world of Star Wars – something apart from the novel, the comic, or the short story – genres of writing which have had their time at the fore of what most people read. The Jedi Path is the next step in fantasy story-telling.

The Jedi Path begins to come close to fulfilling the promise of science fiction literature. As David Brin, in the book Star Wars on Trial I think rightly states: “Science Fiction has never been modest about its aim to take on important issues. Beyond just “good versus evil” or “boy meets girl”, there has always been a notion that SF is the true descendant and heir of Gilgamesh and Homer, Virgil and Murasaki, of Dante, Swift, and Defoe. Liberated from the constraints of day-to-day existence, it provides a canvas wide enough to portray and discuss real issues. Things that matter in the long run.”(page 2). I use this quote not to say that I think The Jedi Path deals with important issues, but in that it tells the story of Star Wars in a new and unique manner, and it’s the telling of the story that I think is important here.

The Jedi Path is a new tradition in literature, one that brings fantasy to the next level. Though I don’t think The Jedi Path is the modern equivalent of the ancient epics listed by Brin, I do think this type of writing opens the door for other authors to begin thinking about penning Star Wars stories in the same tradition (the epic poem tradition) of the ancient texts mentioned above. The Jedi Path has demonstrated that there is more than one way to tell a Star Wars story, and I think as lovers of all things Star Wars we should take notice.

The real story of The Jedi Path is not the content of its pages (though I will spill ink on this), nor its extremely cool packaging, but in its manner of narrative. It’s an artifact from an unreal universe – the soul of Star Wars incarnated into our world in physical form – the Force made paper.

After I read The Jedi Path I entered into a discussion about the nature of this book with an old friend from Grad school. I was perplexed by it, and wanted to look into the history of this type of story-telling. At first this booked reminded me of The Castle of Otronto, a 17th century Gothic novel written by Horace Walpole. Though overall the two texts are very dissimilar, the reason I thought of The Castle of Otronto was because of Walpole’s introduction of the story to his 17th century audience. In the first edition of the story, it reads: “The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto.” As Wikipedia says of this book: “This first edition purported to be a translation based on a manuscript printed at Naples in 1529 and recently rediscovered in the library of "an ancient Catholic family in the north of England". The Italian manuscript's story, it was claimed, derived from a story still older, dating back perhaps as far as the Crusades. These Italian manuscripts, along with alleged author “Onuphrio Muralto”, were Walpole's fictional creations and "William Marshal" his pseudonym”.

In the second edition of The Castle of Otronto Walpole comes clean and basically says ‘I just made up that whole ancient Italian manuscript thing for effect’. And effective it was. But this highlights the blending of the real and the imagined. In Otronto Walpole wants you to believe in the origins of the story you are about to read. He wants you to believe that this story really did survive the Crusades and has been passed down through time, hidden for centuries in the library of an “ancient Catholic family” until it eventually fell into your hands. Likewise this is what Wallace wants you feel with The Jedi Path (feel - not necessarily believe – but he wants you to buy into the origin story of the book you are currently holding). And the effect is convincing. As I was reading The Jedi Path I imagined this really was the only surviving textbook of the Jedi Order. I gleefully suspended my disbelief and bought-in to the fantasy Wallace was selling me.

With The Jedi Path Wallace tells us the story of the Force, the Jedi, and the religious order built around these rare and unique individuals, all without a ‘traditional’ narrative.

But what does one call this book? It’s not a novel, or a short story, or a poem. What is it?

This was the question I posed to my old friend. In our discussion we came up with a few things this type of writing is similar too. To quote our e-mail exchange, he proposed that The Jedi Path was like “Alfred Jarry's "How to Build a Time Machine" and the vast amounts of literature that has come out of it: This stems from the pataphyiscal movement, which basically has to do with imaginary science. It is not the writing of fiction, but rather things like instruction manuals for fictional devices, as if those devices were real. You could also think of all those elaborate Star Trek manuals that used to come out with maps of the ships and all kinds of descriptions of how everything was supposed to work. In this sense, the appearance of Klingon dictionaries is part of this impulse to create instructional texts that operate as if the fictional world isn't fictional at all, but real. Another thing that comes to mind is the Diary of Laura Palmer. I don't know if you ever watched Twin Peaks, or if this entirely fits what you are thinking about, but sometime after the series ended, David Lynch's daughter wrote Laura Palmer's diary to continue the creation of that particular narrative world.”

Of all the books my friend mentioned, the one that I thought was the most interesting was the Codex Seraphinianus - a book written and illustrated by the Italian artist, architect, and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition), and appears to be a visual encyclopedia of an unknown world, written in one of its languages, a thus-far undeciphered alphabetic writing.

But the question still remained – what does one call this type of literature. I proposed the utilitarian marker of “intertextual”, but AEM took the idea further saying: “I would call this kind of thing we've been talking about simply by "adaptation" (which can be rather complex, as the rest of this email will suggest). Perhaps "adoption" is better, however. But it does have elements of intertextuality too. But maybe "hypotext" is better in some of these cases. A hypotext, as opposed to a hypertext is when an adapted story not only adapts/adopts from a source, but actually makes reference to other editions.”

Our e-mail exchange went on like this for a while, but I bring all this up not to bore you with literary jargon, but to demonstrate that The Jedi Path marks a new way of telling and imagining the Star Wars universe. The Jedi Path, I believe, shows just how wild Star Wars story-telling can get, and all the while remain commercially viable. Great writers of the Star Wars mythos need not be confined to Hyperspace. Writers like Fry, Kogge, Pena, and Wallace. Maybe The Jedi Path will allow other texts that are non-traditional narratives begin to revive other less popular styles of writing – Star Wars epic poetry perhaps?

You never know. Maybe one day.

Now that I’ve talked about ‘what’ The Jedi Path is, let me now focus on the content of its pages and the particular lines of interest that jumped out at me, but before I get into what I liked about the book, I want to first put my only criticism of it to rest. Though I thought the comments by Yoda, Anakin and the like along the book’s margins was a stroke of brilliance, and made this book better than simply being a textbook of the Jedi Order, I found it irritating that every comment was signed by its author. When I comment in a book’s margins I certainly don’t sign my name. I’m not sure why I would, and I’m not sure why these Jedi did. It was enough that each had their own particular handwriting and color to go along, and as a reader I could identify who’s comments were who’s from the front of the book. Seeing the author’s signature at the end of every comment ‘broke the fourth wall’ for me. I found the practice unnecessary.

So with my criticism aside, allow me to delineate where the remainder of my post will go. What I found of interest in this book’s pages was its mention of the will of the Force, midichlorians, form zero lightsaber combat, the language of High Galactic, Jedi hunters, and the Education corps. I could go on almost indefinatly, as I literary found every page worthy of in-depth discussion, but I only have small spaces of time to write and therefore I can’t be exhaustive with my thoughts.

Firstly, Jedi seer Sabla-Mandibu’s mention that ‘the Force does have a will, make no mistake’ (pg. 24), caught me a little off guard. Still, after all this time trying to come to an understanding of the nature of the Force I’m at a loss as to what it is. Is the Force THE God? Or is the lightside of the Force a benevolent God, while the darkside of the Force is a destructive God? Is the Force a duality of divinity, like in Zoroastrianism? As Wikipedia states of Zoroastrianism: “In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil originates from Him. Thus, in Zoroastrianism good and evil have distinct sources, with evil (druj) trying to destroy the creation of Mazda (asha), and good trying to sustain it”. Is the lightside of the Force asha (sounds a lot like Ashla from the text JvsS doesn’t it?) while the darkside is druj (“Bogan” if you recall from JvsS)? I’m I even correct in aligning the idea of the Force with divinity in the first place?

Whatever the case may be, the fact that ‘the Force has a will’, is a significant statement. If the Force has a will, the next question is then ‘what is the Force’s will?’ Who understands its will? Who has the authority to interpret its will? Is the Force’s will benevolent? Is it destructive? Are the Jedi the proper interpreters of its will? Is it the Sith? If the Force is the ‘voice that whispers your destiny’ does it want beings to ‘fall to the darkside’, since it was the One that whispered a being’s destiny in the first place? If the Force is the cause of all goodness and evil simultaneously, does it even know what it wants?

What is the Will of the Force?

Perhaps for my own stability of mind I need to move on.

Before Sabla-Mandibu mentioned the will of the Force, I also thought it interesting the way she downplayed midichlorians: “Master Bowspritz will teach you of the midi-chlorians in our cells that channel the Force’s energy. I urge you not to think too much on this necessary biological symbiosis but to instead cast your focus wider” (pg. 23). This is the second time I’ve come across the idea of midichlorians in the EU – the first being its mention by Doctor Demagol in the short story by JJM. In that post I wrote how I thought JJM was attempting to “remystify” the Force through the character of Demagol. You can read my reaction to that story here. I think like JJM, Wallace is attempting to recapture the Force from the clutches of cold empirical science, and rephrase it in the dimension I think the Force is meant to be understood – as an energy field that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.

The Force doesn’t need midichlorians as its explanation. What is more, I’m glad that the mythology of Star Wars as it exists outside of the films rejects, although ever so subtly, this notion of symbiotic cells.

On page 43 of the book, Jedi Battlemaster Skarch Vaunk discusses the notion of form zero, a form of lightsaber combat I personally feel too few Jedi use: “Although I am a Jedi Battlemaster, I must stress that aggression is never the way of the Jedi. More fundamental that even Form 1 is form Zero – finding a non-violent solution to any problem you encounter.” Master Yoda then goes on to iterate the importance of these words: “Wise Master Vanuk is. For knowledge and defense a Jedi uses the Force. Never for attack.” In my opinion, the strongest Jedi are the ones who never take life, or use the Force for aggression (Zayne Carrick). As Gandhi once Famously said “For this cause I too am willing to die. But, my friend, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill”. Gandhi and Christ Jesus Himself – Jedi Masters of form Zero, and still to this day, messengers of counter-culture.

Wrapping up my post, I want to quickly mention how I thought it neat that High Galactic was Latin (pages 78-79), and Darth Sidious’ mention of Jedi hunters on page 91 was very cool. Let me tell you, if I do get to my own writing of Star Wars one day, taozin amulets and Akk Dog armor plating will appear on my own Jedi hunters.

Before I sign off though, I want to give my reaction to the Education corps (page 57) – the group of Jedi who consist of scholars, teachers, and archivists. My buddy and I used to wonder, ‘If the Star Wars universe were real, what would we be? Smugglers, Gamblers, or Pirates? Perhaps even Jedi? The truth is, if I were ever transported to the Star Wars universe, the Education corps is where I feel I would likely end up. I don’t think I would be some great Jedi warrior, or some moisture farmer, but I would most likely be what I am in life – a dowdy teacher of less than average stature, sitting in his dusty office away from most people, pouring over a book. A teacher who loves the Force with all his heart and only wants to point young padawans in its benevolent direction. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. The Jedi Education Corps seems like my home in the Star Wars universe.

We need more of The Jedi Path in Star Wars.

For my next post I’m going to look at the latest timeline offered by Bioware. From there I’m going to move ahead in Star Wars chronology to Tale #17 The Apprentice and keep going from there. I’m then going to pause and engage with the Knight Errant comic series when issue 5 comes out, and take Plaristes advice and deal with that series in chunks of 5. As it is I’m still under the pump with my home life and the Star Wars Chronology Project has had to take a back seat for now. But until next time my friends, may the Force be with you.