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 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 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.


  1. The novel Darth Plagueis, of course, gives a lot more light on Plagueis' experiments, but I will say no more about them.

    I haven't yet read this, but anything new by Stover is a must-have. (I have to consider subscribing to Insider, but I'd rather have them collected in some form, like Lost Tribe of the Sith will be)

  2. With the zino digital reader it's possible to print off the pages and collect them into a binder yourself. Personally I'd much rather have it professionally done and in some sort of authoritative manner, but that's what I was getting at - a magazine exclusively for short story fiction.

    I'm looking forward to the LTOTS series.

    BTW, I posted this in the comments to my post on Deluge - when does the new Wrath of Darth Maul fit into the timeline?

  3. What I've heard (I don't yet have it) it starts with young Maul (could be 50-something BBY) and ends with his Duel of the Fates with Obi-Wan, and an epilogue some time later.