Monday, July 23, 2012

32 BBY: Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

Darth  Maul: Shadow Hunter was one of the best Star Wars novels I’ve ever read.  As of right now it’s at the top of my all-time favorite Star Wars novels list, bumping Shadows of the Empire to second.  Prior to this project I read a bunch of Star Wars books, and the three I place at the  top of my list include the already mentioned Shadows of the Empire, followed by the Thrawn trilogy (I include them as one), followed by JJM’s  Knight Errant.  My top three is now crowned with Reaves’ Shadow Hunter, unfortunately bumping Jackson’s Knight Errant from the list.  I had no idea this book would be so enjoyable.  I don’t know, maybe when I re-read Shadows of the Empire and the Thawn trilogy Shadow Hunter will be bumped from the top, but as of right now it stands as number one.
This was the first time I’ve engaged with Reaves’ work and I’m very impressed with what he adds to the Star Wars mythos.    What I really enjoyed about Reaves’ work was his ability to take a one-dimensional character like Maul, and add further facets to him, namely presenting him as both invincible and vulnerable.  I kept guessing until the end, and before the last few pages I had reconciled myself to the notion that Maul had failed his mission.  Then Wham! In a twist of dramatic irony, Lorn Pavan turns to Palpatine for help, only to have his head severed from his shoulders from Maul the next morning. 

My thoughts on this text mostly focus on Darth Maul, but once again cloaking devices caught my eye, as did the prevalent notion of the Jedi as a martial institution.
Firstly, it seems that cloaking devices are not as rare as I thought them to be, as once again we a presented with a ship with a cloaking device:

“The Neimoidian freighter Saa’ak cruised ponderously in the uncharted depths of Wild Space.  It displayed its colors proudly, its cloaking device disabled…” (pg. 1).

Here I’m reminded of the words of Captain Needa from The Empire Strikes Back: ‘No ship that small has a cloaking device’.  It seems that so far in Star Wars the Saa’ak is the only ship that conforms to Captain Needa’s worldview about how big or small a ship with a cloaking device should be. Thus far in Star Wars chronology we’ve only come across small ships with cloaking devices.  I think the idea that cloaking devices  are rare is a notion that is a little shattered for me, or else it is a plot device of the Star Wars universe that is overused.  As it is, it’s still a plot device I myself want to use when I do decide to write some short stories.
Moving on, linking my next point with my comment on Reaves' ability to flush out Darth Maul, he did well presenting Maul as I would expect him at the start of the novel.  As those of you who have been reading my blog already know, Darth Maul is not one of my favorite characters because I never took him as a real threat to Darth Sidious, and he’s not one I would consider able to usurp the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith from Sidious.  See my post on Saboteur to understand what I mean.  Reaves gives me further reason not to respect Darth Maul’s “sithness” with lines like this:

“As far as he was concerned, his life began with Lord Sidious.  And if his master ordered an end to that life, Maul would accept that judgment with no argument” (pg 33).
This isn’t the psychology of a future Master of the Sith in the making, it’s the psychology of a brainwashed cultist who loves “the leader” too much to pose any kind of real threat.  At this point in Star Wars chronology Darth Maul is not a Sith we should respect.  It’s lines like this that make me appreciate Maul’s resurrection at the end of the fourth season of The Clone Wars.  I wasn’t too thrilled that Lucas decided to bring him back, but it seems the new Maul will demand a little more respect from us.  There is obviously a showdown coming between Maul and Savage and Sidious and Dooku (or possibly Vader if such a confrontation occurs after events in Revenge of the Sith).  The thought of such a showdown gets my nerdy blood pumping.  So far I like what I’ve seen out of the new and improved Darth Maul and I'm looking forward to season five of The Clone Wars.

Even though Maul is a character I’m rather underwhelmed with at this particular period in Star Wars history, Sidious is a character that always surprises me, even in the hands of various writers.  Reaves’ presentation of Sidious in Shadow Hunter is one that conforms to what we know of him from other works, and I was not at all surprised that Maul’s hubris was a personality flaw that did not escape the notice of the Sith Lord:

               “Nevertheless, Maul had his flaws, and by far the largest of these was hubris” (121).
It was Maul’s excessive pride which caused his ruin at the hands of Kenobi, and it was his hubris which assisted in his failure of this particular mission, which is why I appreciate Reaves as the writer in this story because he presented us with a Maul that ultimately failed.  Yes, he did complete his objective in the end, but not because of anything he did; rather, the darkside of the force threw him a bone, and had his prey land at the feet of his master when he couldn’t get the job done.
Sidious’ honest evaluation of his disciple is not the only thing that impressed me about the Sith Master, I was further impressed with ability to hide in plain sight, even more so than he usually does, by taking his disciple on a field trip to the Jedi Temple:

“One of his earliest memories was that of being taken to the Jedi Temple.  Both he and Sidious had been disguised as tourists.  His master’s command of the dark side had been sufficient to cloak them from being sensed by their enemies, as long as they did not enter the building” (181).
I find this scene sort of humorous.  Did they stop for lunch at Dex’s diner or did Sidious have the foresight to pack some sandwiches?  Jokes aside, it’s scenes like this that make me appreciate just how powerful Sidious is, to turn up at the Jedi Temple and show his student where his enemies live.

As I mentioned earlier, I found Maul’s psychology disappointing for a Sith lord, but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, I find the Jedi focus on martial prowess over the desire of Social Justice just as disappointing, and in Shadow Hunter, this focus was again mentioned: 

“For nearly as long as she could remember, Darsha had been coddled and cozened in the Jedi Temple, protected from direct contact with the dregs of society – an ironic situation, since the Jedi were supposed to be the protectors of all levels of civilization, even those considered to be untouchable by most of the upper classes” (pg 49).

In my posts on The Battle of Bothawui, Jedi Apprentice: The Rising Force, and The Jedi Path, I spoke about  how if a Jedi was not martial or combat oriented, they were somehow seen as inadequate, which I think is an unfortunate cultural reality in the Jedi Temple.  In my post on The Battle of Bothawui I asked if there were any moments of revered remembrance for Jedi whose focus was on Social Justice and the relief of the terrible evil of poverty in the same manner there were to Jedi Master Belth Allusis.  The answer is of course not.  The Jedi are martial.  Yes, they are peace-keepers, but they are martial peace-keepers, but as an institution they are more inclined to honor the sacrifice of Master Allusis than they are to erect a monument to Golan Palladane, who sought to relive the suffering of refugees trapped in Sith space.  I’m not surprised Darsha felt out of place with the homeless and needy, as her Jedi training never taught her how to battle the greatest evil of all, that of apathy to the unloved and unwanted.
My final thoughts on this text concern two smaller aspects that I thought were neat: the taozin and Maul’s force track.  The taozin contained in the bowels of Coruscant, and its piece of flesh which gave Lorn the jump on Darth Maul was extremely cool.  I’m endlessly fascinated with anything that can nullify the Jedi’s powers, and I think such pieces of kryptonite are important in this universe.  The Jedi’s status as demi-gods needs to be knocked down a little, and I appreciated Reaves did this in a manner consistant with the universe, not like what Chestney did in Threat of Peace.  What is more, I think this is the first time such a creature has entered the Star Wars mythos, except for Darth Sidious’ mention of it in The Jedi Path. Here’s the plot for a short story for someone to fill in the blanks: how did this creature end up on Coruscant in the first place?  Perhaps it landed there 100 years ago?  A thousand years ago?  Who knows?

Finally, I thought Maul’s ability to track Darsha very interesting.  When he did this I thought of the picture on page 26 of the Jedi Academy sourcebook from Wizards of the Coast.  Was Maul using Force Track here as it is presented in the Jedi Academy sourcebook?  There is a great picture in this book and it’s labeled “An Ikotchi Sith Lord uses Force Track in pursuit of a Jedi”, and there is a picture of a Sith Lord that looks a little like Maul following a purple smoke-like line of Force residue in pursuit of his prey.  It’s a cool picture.  Again, I wonder what the story is here.  Who is this Sith Lord?  I’m sure Wallace knows. 
For my next post I’m going to look at “A Letter from Chancellor Valorum” and “Situational Analysis of the Naboo System,” both from the Secrets of Naboo RPG sourcebook from Wizards of the Coast.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favorite novels, too, and largely for the reason that it makes Maul less of a one-dimensional figure. The twist ending was great, too. :)