He was not a great personality, because he thought so much about himself. He was sometimes not even a great artist, because he thought so much about art. Any man with a vital knowledge of the human psychology ought to have the most profound suspicion of anybody who claims to be an artist, and talks a great deal about art. Art is a right and human thing, like walking or saying one's prayers; but the moment it begins to be talked about very solemnly, a man may be fairly certain that the thing has come into a congestion and a kind of difficulty.
—G. K. Chesterton (Heretics, Chapter 17)
Something's got Star Wars stirring in my brain again. That something is probably all the Episode 7-related chatter that's been reaching me. In any case, this old site got back on my mind, along with the five stories that I wrote here and the two dozen or so that I never got around to really starting. So as a primarily pointless mental exercise, as well as for the benefit of the one or two people who might be interested in knowing, I plan on putting up here a series of (as always) informal essays in which I will ramble, mumble, and rant about Star Wars, with a particular (if tenuous) focus on my own fan works, both those completed and uncompleted. The majority of the latter are plot ideas that I've rarely (if ever) talked about, whether here or on IRC. I will feel no particular discomfort about spoiling the hell out of them, for (aside from this site being comparable to a planet in the Unknown Regions relative to the rest of the internet) the chances of my ever getting back to work on them are pretty low. Besides that, maybe my old ideas will inspire somebody who actually would have the time for fan fiction (the poor bastard). Along with the discussion of my works, I will also (when I feel like it) include snippets from my old outlines, character notes, brainstorming, and other scribbles.
I - Everything I Like Goes Together; Everything I Don't Like Must Be Fixed: On the Dark Order Saga and Some Things in the Post-Endor EU
Aging is nothing if not a humbling experience, and one of the most obvious ways this is made manifest, for me, is when I review the things I have produced as a writer over the years. As a writer of fan fiction (less so of poetry and original fiction), I've pretty much always thought of myself as a genius compared to the overwhelming supermajority of my peers: those immature clowns whose minds are devoid of true vision, imagination, and artistic integrity, so prone to employing brainless self-insertions as protagonists, so willing to pander to whatever forms of emotional and sexual titillation will garner the most praise from the rest of the drooling, seething, unwashed masses. Nay, I am everything they are not: interested above all in crafting a true story, one with developed, well-rounded characters and plots that are truly interesting and unpredictable. In fact, were an impartial judge to pit my vision of Star Wars against every single last one of theirs combined, it would be no contest: by rights I would be sovereign over them all - the king of this dung heap.
The benefit of years has at least partially done away with this delusion. While I still think most fan fiction compared to my own (or not compared to anything, for that matter) to be garbage, I can now say with confidence that, if nothing else, I have somehow or other grown the ability to reflect on, criticize, and (if necessary) skewer my own work (hopefully) just as effectively as I have other people's in the past. I need not be the king of this dump - to keep the Medieval metaphor, I am content to be just one of many minor lords over my own little tract of territory. Thus, I can be haughty enough to look down from my keep upon the thirteen-year-old hacks and twenty-to-thirty-year-old degenerates as they roll in the mud of the streets; but I can also be humble enough to look up with wariness at the taller and more fortified towers of my neighbors.
It is with that thought that I begin my essays and proceed, in an extremely roundabout manner, to what was for a long time my main writing project here at SWFanon. In fact, the Dark Order Saga goes back to the very beginning of my time here with one lone article which I started without really knowing where it would go. At the time - what the hell, October of 2006 - I was rather obsessed with Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. I frankly don't want to think about how many days of my life I've sunk into that game.
In any case, despite my inexperience back then, I was able to tell a bad story (or a worse story than what I would've written) when I saw one sometimes, and in the case of Jedi Academy I guessed right. (I know my opinion back then was correct because I still hold it today.) Basically, I was dissatisfied with the fact that the Expanded Universe continuity (prior to the recent reboot, obviously) recognized the game's light side ending as the official and canon one. In it, our protagonist, a cereal box cardboard cutout made to resemble a Jedi named Jaden Korr fights his way through an army of fiendish Sith cultists and heroically faces off against the villain, Tavion, in a two-tiered boss fight: first against the whorishly-dressed, recycled villainess on her own, and then against Marka Ragnos, the dead Sith Lord who possesses her dumb ass. Despite being a Jedi for less than a year, Jaden beats them both, killing Tavion, sending Ragnos floating back into his grave, and blowing up the Ancient Sith Plot Point Scepter that made Tavion's plan of resurrecting the Dark Lord (supposedly) possible. Only after all this is taken care of do Kyle and Luke show up. The cultist's one Star Destroyer in orbit explodes out of nerves, and Jaden continues his career as a Jedi - presumably going on to succeed Luke as Grand Master in less than a month. In less than a year he'll be taking over the Tonight Show In Space from Jimmy Fallon.
Even as a teenager I found this ending thoroughly lackluster, compared to the alternate ending. Jaden decides to give into his annoyance (I mean, his rage) and murders Rosh Penin, a fellow Jedi and repentant defector to the cultists (and, I would be willing to bet, the most justly despised secondary character of the entire Star Wars franchise, second only to Jar Jar Binks himself). Immediately after this, Jaden forgets how to speak with an indoor voice and decides that his new ambition in life is to take over the galaxy or something. He goes to Korriban, kills Tavion, fights and beats Kyle Katarn in a duel, takes the Scepter of Ragnos, and gets outta dodge in a hijacked Star Destroyer.
While I didn't exactly have an eye for drama back in 2006, I was still able to recognize, if in a dim and preconscious sort of way, that the light side ending was nowhere near as compelling as the dark one. The former wrapped up every loose end in an instant, concluding all our business as lightly and cleanly as an episode of The Superfriends. The latter ending, though crude (like everything else in Jedi Academy), is thematically shocking by comparison: Kyle Freaking Katarn just got his ass beaten by his own student. That student, once the hero of the story, is now the new villain and has escaped to unleash who-knows-what kind of havoc on the galaxy. Will Kyle be able to stop him? What will happen next?
So it was from this conclusion that I began - my very first article detailed the Battle of Korriban with this alternate ending in mind, and I'm rather confident that it was just supposed to be a one-off sorta thing. But finishing the story up to Jaden's escape necessitated that I know, or "find out" what happened next, and so that article ended up just being the first domino. Having set Jaden up as the new leader of this Imperial Remnant faction, I sprang into the resultant war. Years of obsessive playing the X-wing/TIE Fighter and Empire at War games gave rise to an obsession with battle articles, which I loved to write.
Really, I think characterization and coherence came second to my priority that there must be badass space and army shit going on at all times. That's why Jaden's forces are all over the place in the early battles of this "Dark Order War" with either no in-universe explanation or one that I wouldn't hackney out until years after the original articles were written. First comes a blitzkrieg raid on the Jedi Academy which, incidentally, serves as a good example of my writerly self making the same mistakes that I denounced other writers, fan and official, for making - in this case, the defensibility of the Jedi Academy. Going by the old EU canon, it's apparently been attacked a total of three times by Imperials, who lost every time due to either contrivances, or else moronic decisions on the part of the attackers because the author(s) didn't know or didn't care anything about how military stuff works (or should work) within the setting that they're writing.
By all accounts, the only real defensive advantage for the Jedi Academy is the fact that people don't know where it is. The first time this is breached is in Kevin Anderson's truly painful book Darksaber. On this occasion Admiral Daala (I hate her so much, don't get me started on her) comes to the table with thirty-seven Star Destroyers, not to mention a Super Star Destroyer which is painted black because the regular design simply is not evil or grandiose enough. This force is pitted against, what, a dozen Jedi on foot on the surface with zero initial fleet support and no planetary shield. So obviously instead of slagging the planet from orbit, Admiral Daala farts around with a limp-wristed attempt at a ground invasion and manages to lose the entire fleet.
Not to pick on Jedi Outcast (because its plot holes are offset by the fact that it's actually fun to be Kyle Katarn), but that situation isn't much more sensible in hindsight. The Doomgiver is a badass ship (I wish we'd seen more of her class elsewhere in the EU), but Galak Fyyar is apparently so cocky that that was the only ship he bothered to bring to the party. I suppose his refraining from smiting the Jedi from the heavens is somewhat forgivable, seeing as Desann wanted to kick the Jedi's asses on their own turf. What's not so easily overlooked, however, is how the Jedi have not learned their lesson from Daala and can do jack shit if somebody wants to show up and start dropping invasion pods on their academy from orbit - they sure are lucky that Rogue Squadron happens to be in the neighborhood.
The Jedi Academy gets attacked again in the old EU canon, but I don't fancy brain rot, so I never bothered to read the Young Jedi Knights series - sorry but not sorry at all. As for my own mistake, I had Jaden's attack on the Academy consist of yet another ground assault on an inexplicably pantsless Yavin 4, transported by one lone Star Destroyer. My excuse for him not blasting the whole academy into oblivion was that the attack's objective was to capture a bunch of Jedi alive. Naturally, this fails to explain why he didn't do the bombardment thing on his way out, after he's done fishing. Sooner or later the problems with this whole situation did occur to me, sort of; from the "Aftermath" section of the battle article: "After the attack, the Jedi Order decided to outfit the academy with superior defensive systems, including longer-range sensors, anti-air turrets, and a theater shield. They also requested that the New Republic station a fleet in the system to protect the academy." Not terrible, but again, one wonders why the Jedi didn't get around to requesting this military protection after they got attacked for maybe the second time, if not the first.
In any case, I threw in the Yavin attack because there needed to be a battle involving lots of Jedi, a shocking strike against the good guys by Jaden right out of the gate. And then he captures Kuat, which is the biggest and baddest shipyard in the Core Worlds. The New Republic does some raids so that I can write some missions that remind me of X-Wing, then there's a big battle, and HOLY SHIT - DAMMIT JADEN, YOU BLEW IT UP! YOU BLEW UP ALL THE SHIPYARDS, YOU MANIAC!!! At one point or another Jaden also got under his command shadow troopers, dark troopers, and almost every kind of TIE Fighter variant that I found cool sooner or later. And he had a base on Thule because that was in the old Clone Wars game that I had on my PS2. "Everything I like goes together!"
Still, I had just enough sense to avoid letting the story degenerate completely into a simple war in which Jaden was the bad guy and the finale consisted simply of him getting killed. So I decided to throw in a Bigger Bad force in the form of two Sith Lords pretending to be loyal cultists in Jaden's organization - genius, right? Both of these characters are updated versions of ones from a forum RPG that my brother and I participated in a very long time ago - I won't link to it here. Besides, if the reader is persistent enough, then I'm sure he or she can find it on their own in any case.
That these two Sith characters originate from a time even more primitive than 2006 shows. Darth Persia (his backstory almost entirely untouched from the original one my brother wrote for him) is a small-time Sith Lord working for Revan back in KotOR times who gets killed by Darth Sion sometime after the Star Forge is blown up. After that he's buried for four thousand years, but escapes and comes back to life when his Force Ghost possesses some sap who breaks into his tomb. Persia works for Palpatine as an Inquisitor for a while, then sets out on his own to re-start the Sith Empire after Endor happens. He's somehow a military genius, fabulous public speaker, dual-wielder of Dooku-style curve-hilted lightsabers, and can mix ice cream like nobody's business. Speaking of which, I seem to recall that in his very first incarnation, the time skip that landed him in the Imperial Era was accomplished not by Force Ghost Possession, but by cryogenically freezing himself for the hell of it.
His apprentice, Darth Imperious, was my own creation. He's a Kel'Dor originally named Jorus Kuun whose parents got killed at some point, and who becomes a Jedi, only for Jaden Korr to capture him during his attack on Yavin 4. Jaden spends days torturing him. Eventually Jorus is won over by his captor's inspiring personality and charisma and joins him; not long after, Persia finds him and recruits him as a Sith apprentice. In retrospect, I think the part about his character that I like the most is this line from his article's "Behind the Scenes" section: "The author understands that Imperious' background is rather stock, but doesn't think that a different origin is necessary for the character." As General Grievous once said, "You are a bold one."
Shit goes on. Kyle Katarn eventually stop being useless and catches up with Jaden on Bakura while a big badass battle goes on outside. Imperious shows up and it's a Pirates of the Caribbean-esque three-sided duel. Imperious escapes with the Scepter of Ragnos, so does Kyle after cutting off one of Jaden's hands, and Darth Persia, commanding the fleet in orbit, gets rid of Jaden for good by nuking the entire planet. After that he takes the regime over and forms the Greater Sith Empire, and about a bazillion military campaigns happen after that. I used to have a gigantic text file summarizing dozens (if not literally hundreds) of battle ideas - secret weapons and defections and civil wars and sabotage and intrigues and such - but that file is long gone.
The goofiness of the villains aside, I feel my old self deserves just a little credit - as does my brother, who helped me to take a more sophisticated route in my writing than I otherwise would have. He pointed out to me that at the end of the day Jaden Korr is really nothing more than an asshole who's really good at killing people. But politicians and admirals are impressed by respectability and competence, so none of the Imperial Remnant people are really going to like having to answer to him, whereas Tavion's former cultists are slobbering to do his bidding. I wrote, or tried to write, Jaden as short-sighted and easily duped, in contrast to Persia, who's able to subvert his influence by actually being a good military leader. This seemed to me to be a contrast with a lot of Star Wars writing that I had seen, in which it was rather witlessly assumed that owning a lightsaber meant that one never had to deal with problems in politics, administration, economics, or commanding fleets of starships. This blind spot turned out to be no less prevalent among official Star Wars media than among fan-made.
For instance, the Revenge of the Sith video game and The Force Unleashed both assumed that if Anakin or Starkiller had succeeded in killing Palpatine, then he would be able to swagger into the Imperial Palace and declare himself Emperor, and the whole Empire would trip over itself as it ran to clean his boots with its drool - forgetting, of course, that even among the fraction of Imperial elite who knew anything about the Sith, none of them had any respect for Sith political theory; thus nobody would be impressed by the usurper's martial prowess and would instead ostracize him as the assassin of their rightful ruler. The RotS game had a particularly asinine alternate ending in which Anakin pulls a fast one on Ol' Palps and stabs him to death before spitting to the nearby stormtrooper bodyguards that "The galaxy belongs to me!" And the cutscene ends with this apparently being accepted, whereas in any sane universe the clones would have gunned Anakin down before he could get the first word out.
As I said, there was about a bajillion battles to have happen - due to several cases of overhaul-and-update-what-you've-already-written-itis, though, I never got very far past Jaden's death. Most of what I had planned is too fuzzy in my head to really recall much beyond basic stuff, but I do remember how I intended to wrap up the whole thing. Basically, one of the main dynamics of the story would be the Master-Apprentice relationship between Persia and Imperious, with the former being the arrogant, omni-competent Sith overlord and the latter his ambitious but less refined minion (much more perceptive and effective than Jaden ever was, but still not really up to the task of running an Empire). Not one to let himself be deterred by patience, Imperious would challenge his master and kill him in a spectacular duel in an underground droid factory on the new capital of Eriadu.
Being Sith, the Empire accepts Imperious' rule, but the war goes badly and he realizes he made a mistake. So he takes a bigass fleet to Korriban and uses the Scepter of Ragnos to resurrect Persia - his plan being to force his old master to use his magic military mojo to win the war for him. I had all this planned out in my head, exactly how it would look in a movie. Since it all has to be badass enough, the resurrection happens while in the middle of a Jedi-on-Sith melee on top of one of the tombs in the Valley of the Dark Lords. Imperious would blast a huge wad of dark side energy at Darth Persia's tomb, causing it to explode (because it is imperative that things explode in order to be respectable), and Persia floats through the air to meet them. By this point the only Jedi left is Luke Skywalker, and they gang up on him. Luke kills Imperious by stabbing him through the head, but is beaten by Persia. Persia, who is pissed off for being dead and stuff, then immediately uses the scepter to resurrect Imperious and declare himself the chief asshole once again. (The idea was that if you bring someone back to life using the scepter, you can suck their Force energy right back into the thing and kill them if they piss you off.) Luke is finished off and the two Sith Lords leave. Meanwhile in orbit the fleet battle reaches its climax when two Super Star Destroyers crash into each other, get blown in half, and then crash into Korriban and level the Valley of the Dark Lords. Despite the maximum-villainy wankage in all this, I still applaud myself for that bit. For all the times that the Sith menace gets re-started from a planet that's full of ancient evil ghosts and dark side artifacts, you'd think the Jedi or Republic would take the hint and do something permanent about Korriban - you know, maybe after the first two or three freaking thousand years of Sith problems.
Anyway, since Darth Persia is so awesome that he shits gold bricks and eats Sith lightsaber crystals as breakfast cereal, he takes back command of the Empire and beats the crap out of the Republic. It comes down to a last stand at the last major Republic shipyard in the Core (I can't remember which planet it was. My gut says Fondor, but in any case it probably wasn't Kuat). The Republic fleet's literally just about to be defeated when Imperious goes berserk and starts a fight with Persia right on the bridge. Eventually they both grab the Scepter of Ragnos and drain each other's energy into it - Imperious kicks the bucket straight off, and Persia, reduced to a sickly pasty white mess of a person, dies soon after. Darth Persia's subordinates are incapable of coordinating the battle after that (presumably because of searing pain in their asses from crapping themselves so hard), so the Imperial fleet is routed, and the Republic eventually wins the war. Kyle Katarn becomes Grand Master of the Jedi Order, and finally the galaxy can get some peace and quiet because the Yuuzhan Vong never show up because they're still an even stupider idea than anything I could ever come up with.
Aside from my inexperience as a writer at the time, I'm inclined to think that the main reason Dark Order failed is because I thought of it less as a story about people than a series of articles about shit blowing up. Despite my care to be a bit more astute about galactic politics than most fanfic writers, that ultimately didn't make the whole thing that much better than any other schmuck's post-Endor storyline. I was so obsessed with my own wanked-out villains and their schemings that I couldn't find any real place for the heroes in any of the proceedings. This is perfectly exemplified by Luke's death, which wasn't even a heroic sacrifice, and the fact that nobody in the galaxy was a bad enough dude to kill my two Sith head honchos - they had to kill each other. At the time I thought this would be a clever and novel way to beat the reader over the head with the fact that the Sith way leads inevitably to self-destruction, but in hindsight it just strikes me as excessively grim - not only did the heroes fail to beat the villains, but in a certain sense they weren't even needed to beat them anyway.
In addition to that, one main weakness of Dark Order was the same weakness that all tales, fanfic and otherwise, of huge epic post-Endor wars against the re-emergent Sith. It seems to cheapen everything that happened in Episode 6 - not so much by making Anakin Skywalker's "balancing the Force" shtick kind of a joke, but more prominently making that movie's whole conflict seem unimportant, since after Palpatine's defeat not only do threats just as huge remain to be dealt with, but such huge threats can even come out of nowhere, can be some resurrected Sith stooge from four thousand years ago. And even if you can ignore all that, you can only see the epic post-Endor plot so many times before the differences between the various iterations start to look arbitrary and superficial, and they all become a single, generic blob. (Obviously, I'm currently suspending judgment on how this rule of mine, if it can be called a rule, will apply or fail to apply to the Sequel Trilogy.)
That's basically why I lost interest in the Dark Order story, and also why I wouldn't finish it even if I had the time to and the benefit of revising the plot as radically as I wished. The whole thing started with Jedi Academy, and that game's story wasn't even that good to begin with - it was quite shitty, in fact. That it was an action game running on the primitive Quake 3 engine is no excuse. Jedi Outcast had all the same limitations, yet provided a story and protagonist that most can agree were engaging and fun to experience. Academy, on the other hand, provided close to zero elevation in gameplay quality while simultaneously throwing storyline quality off a cliff. The protagonist is devoid of personality. His supposed friendship with Rosh Penin is never demonstrated, Rosh himself being an annoying fuck with no respectable personality traits and no heroic qualities at all, and whose defection to the cultists as well as his final role as the "Turn to Dark Side Button" could be seen from a mile away. The plot is riddled with inconsistencies and weird gaps of information. For just one example, we are told before the Korriban mission that the Scepter's resurrection shtick works by dumping a bunch of Force energy onto a dead dude, which restores his cells and brings him back to life - but when Tavion actually does it, it just wakes up Ragnos' ghost so he can possess her. Never mind the question of where Tavion got this whole idea to begin with.
This is the other thing that killed the Dark Order series: the fact that Jedi Academy, along with so much of the rest of the Post-Endor EU, was so shitty, and that I felt obligated to fix all of it. For instance, I had to replace Dark Empire with some other campaign waged by some bare-bones Dark Jedi villain I made up. For the more immediate backstory itself, I actually planned to write some actual prose, a series of short stories called the Jedi Academy Chronicles. Basically, the idea was to have one story per mission in the game, re-telling it all so that it would be decent rather than shitty. Jaden and Rosh would be working together in a lot of the missions, allowing the idea of these two being friends to actually become plausible, thus lending some actual drama to Jaden's turn to the dark side. Just giving Jaden a personality in general would've gone a long way. As it stood, having my story start with his turn to the dark side, leaving the original game's one-dimension-ness untouched, there's no sane way to account for this guy going from a basically well-intentioned Jedi to committing murder, and then becoming a ruthless warlord.
I have only the barest of notes on what any of these particular short stories would have been. I find the bullet point entry for the Taanab mission to be noteworthy, though: I have it written down that rather than Jaden, the point-of-view character would simply be "an ordinary dude" - presumably a blue-collar schmuck who punches in at his shift at the spaceport only to have to deal with a lightsaber melee between Jaden and the cultists, not to mention the giant mutant rampaging rancor. It's a bit amusing to imagine.
So the final reason I will never complete or re-write the Dark Order series is that the whole thing is simply too damn big. If I'm going to fix it, I might as well fix Jedi Academy. And if I'm going to fix Jedi Academy, I might as well fix the entire post-Endor EU, and I would not wish to force such a task on even my most loathsome enemy. Suffice it to say that if I were to start over again where I did nine long years ago at the Battle of Korriban (presuming a decent backstory rather than a shitty one in Jedi Academy's prior events), I would most likely forgo entirely the tedious rerun where Jaden becomes an Imperial warlord. Instead I would end the whole saga right at its start, with Jaden being defeated by Kyle in Ragnos' tomb, and then finally struck down while grasping at the scepter. To my mind, that would be the only respectable way for my original idea to end, combining the essential resolution of the light side ending with the tragedy that was implied in the dark side one, and completely avoiding the much-trodden ground of a humongous New Republic-on-Sith war.
II - On the Writing of Romance, Being the First of Many Chapters to Deal with Knights of the Old Republic
When I consider what depths of scum and villainy there are to the internet and to humanity in general, I suppose that I'm not much of an explorer. But one experience of mine which I remember with exquisite disdain and self-directed indignation is the web site once known as kotorfanmedia.com, of which I was a member for some years. Today I note with some satisfaction that the site and its forums appear to have been offline for some time, but even that does little to make me feel better about the entire affair - better to have always stayed clean. As I seem to recall it, the membership there - on the forums, anyway - seemed to be only a few dozen strong, consisting of girls whose chosen pastime was apparently symbolically masturbating to visions of the tortured, fractured, misunderstood, lonely, angry, angsty souls of their female Revan, their female Exile, Atton Rand, Mical, and (of course) the king shithead himself, Carth Onasi. There were only a few exceptions to this, and the fact that I was myself one of those exceptions serves only to underscore my foolishness in dwelling there to begin with.
It was during my time at KFM that I composed my first and (to date) last story that deliberately had any attempt to include romance in it. It was a oneshot (more like oneshit, amiright?) consisting of the fight against Darth Nihilus on board the Ravager in KotOR 2, the main focus ostensibly being the relationship between the Exile - male, light-sided, and bearing the recycled named of Jorus Kuun - and Visas Marr. Long story short, Jorus takes one of the game's roads-less-traveled-by and has Visas stab herself in order to defeat Darth Nihilus. It works, Nihilus dies, Visas dies, and Jorus sits on the Ravager's bridge angsting and being miserable because he just made the woman he loved kill herself without ever telling her he loved her - or something like that.
Even with my blindness about my own writing talent (see the previous chapter), it didn't take too long for me to be disgusted with the story that I had written, and I eventually had it deleted. For whatever reason, I've never since felt inclined to write a story that involved romance, whether as part of the main plot or a secondary one. And, frankly, I don't think it fits within the mood of KotOR 2's story to have romance like you theoretically do in KotOR 1, or would in another story - mostly because all of the characters whom these fanfic writers focus on (since they're from the game, y'know) are so fucked in the head. You, as the Exile, are a traumatized former war criminal. Atton's day job used to be torturing people. Handmaiden seems to have been not brought up by her parents, and besides that she's apparently spent her whole life being shat on by her sisters for being a bastard (and despite her in-game light-sidedness, the stuff going on between her and Visas among other things (both in the cut content and the actual game) indicate that this alignment is somewhat tenuous). Visas has spent who-knows-how-many years as the sole speaking companion of a world-devouring monstrosity. Mandalore's an honorable Klingon warrior who would have no interest in silly, squabblish romantics (not with any outsiders, at any rate). Compared to all of them, Mical and Mira are the straight-man and straight-woman, respectively. And I dismiss Mical as ineligible on the grounds that he's hardly any more interesting than Carth; and Mira shoots Male-Exile down as soon as he makes the first move on her because he's "too old" (which is reasonable, given that she's talking about spiritual or psychological "age").
Should the reader find any of these subjects odd to focus on, I kindly refer him or her to the title of these writings. The point remains that the overwhelming majority of the party in TSL is consumed with bizarre, traumatic emotional baggage which, one would think, is interesting enough and important enough (for the writer themself as well as the characters) to crowd out any and all cutesy bullshit where Female-Exile takes Atton out on a date to some bar on Nar Shaddaa, or Male-Exile goes skipping through the fields of Telos' bio-dome while holding hands with Visas. The romantic affections among all of these characters, whatever precise shape they took, were always more interesting when they were suppressed, hidden, or left unfulfilled. Mira being dirty in the shower or chronically punching the wall while thinking of Female-Exile (which at least one cretin has written) is not romantic or interesting. But Atton confessing his love to her as he dies from being tortured by Darth Sion (as in the cut content) is meaningful because it is tragic. Similarly, Atton accompanying her as they fly off into the sunset at the end of the game, saying nothing of love and simply asking "Need any company?" (again, left out of the actual game) is satisfying because it is at the end of the game, and thus we don't need to see what continues to go on between them.
Male-Exile sharing a bed with Visas ("charging her loading ramp," as he'd put it) while in the middle of the quest to find the Jedi Masters is obscene and boring because the relationship has nowhere to go from that point forward. But Visas confessing her love to Male-Exile while they're on their way to fight Nihilus works because they have no time to act on it. Likewise, Brianna murdering Visas on Malachor out of jealousy (this, too, was cut) or, for that matter, Visas sacrificing herself in order to defeat Nihilus, works because a love-obsession cut short by death is always effective, provided the viewer cares about the character who dies.
One more point about Visas for emphasis since her situation is likely the most extreme compared to the other party members: you know how people who are victims of rape (to put it mildly) sort of have trouble forming and maintaining intimate relationships with people in the future? It seems plain to me that Visas' backstory is analogous, or equivalent in terms of sheer trauma, at least as far as the narrative is concerned. It's been ages since I read Unseen, Unheard (the short comic about her backstory), so I'm not positive, but at any rate I'm confident she was rather young when her entire planet got Force-Drained to death around her. And, again, she spends her life after that being Force-bonded to a sentient dark-side abomination and doing whatever it tells her to. It should go without saying that the rape victim analogy remains only an analogy (for me, anyway - for the creepy motherfuckers out there on fanfiction.net, I can make no promises), but this is why I bring it up: does it not occur to these writers that, after everything she's experienced, Visas might have a little difficulty relating healthily and normally to people - let alone going on dates? I'm impressed that this person is capable of recognizing basic social cues, and you expect me to believe that she's maintaining and screwing a boyfriend less than a year after being turned loose from Nihilus' influence?
The overall point: taking these characters, each one of whom carries a veritable Hell within him and herself, and throwing them into conventional romantic relationships with each other is clumsy, artificial, and buffoonish. The writer who does this demonstrates that she has only the most superficial grasp of the characters' personality traits and backstories. And so she frolics about in her own imaginary projections, drooling, jabbering, and swearing to the moon that she can see a living soul somewhere behind Mical's sterile, pixelated eyes.
Though some may expect otherwise, I hold much the same opinion toward KotOR 1: that giving Revan a romance plot to deal with - be it with the British Jedi loon, or with the king of shit himself - is likewise detrimental to the story and to any and all hypothetical spin-offs and continuations. But I will leave that subject, and others, to treat in the next chapter. -MPK, Free Man 23:29, December 23, 2015 (UTC)
Post-Script: The other big reason you can't write the Exile screwing anyone is his/her Force-bond with Kreia. It's the same principle as when Kreia's hand gets cut off: if one of them gets in on some action, the other gets in on it too, whether they want it or not. -MPK, Free Man 01:14, December 25, 2015 (UTC)
III - In Explaining a Thing by Way of Pontificating on the Central Arc of Revan's Character
In this essay I will explain, in my usual meandering way, why I think that direct romance is best left out of the story of KotOR's Revan as well as that of the Exile. First, a few concessions. Yes, the plot, characterization, and overall feel of KotOR is far less dark and disturbing than that of TSL, and so it does much more fittingly lend itself to a conventional romance subplot. (And as much as I like to take the piss out of him, it's not really Carth Onasi that I hate so much as the idiotic fangirls' perceptions of him, and their delusional conviction that he is far more interesting and engaging than he actually is.) But I myself am unable to look at KotOR in isolation after having experienced TSL; since Revan's entire journey as a person before, during, and after the former is considerably deepened and altered by what we're told in the latter. It goes from a carbon copy of the basic Star Wars story (intrepid adventurers, a quest across the galaxy, some romance on the side, and a space battle with stuff blowing up at the end), with the addition of the whole amnesia plot twist thing, to the mere prologue to TSL with all its dark subject matter and moral ambiguity.
That being said, I've never subscribed to the conventional interpretation of Revan's character. That is to say, I am not an apologist for his manipulations of the Republic and Jedi; nor his turn to the dark side and embracing of the Sith teachings; nor his use of a superweapon to destroy Malachor V and massacre his own subjects whose loyalties did not suit him; nor his treason against the Galactic Republic; nor his unhindered employment of other twisted fiends such as Darth Malak and the various Sith assassins and torturers (of whom Atton was one) in the pursuit of his goals; nor his use of the Star Forge. In other words, it is plain as day to me that - whatever we might say or not say about the corruption in the Jedi hierarchy and the Republic - it is indisputable that Revan was a villain prior to the events of KotOR, and that even if he himself believed in the rationalizations that Kreia suggests in TSL, then they are merely that: rationalizations which are no better than those of Darth Sidious or Plagueis ("These pitiful little life forms are better off being ruled by us enlightened ones."), for whom Revan is the equivalent galactic menace of his time period. Contrary to the conventional interpretation (which I always took heat on the internet for contradicting) the real dramatic power of Revan's story is not that he was some transcendent genius who "mastered both sides of the Force" and "walked the middle ground" for some fictitious "greater good" because nobody else was strong enough to - at its bottom, that interpretation is nothing more than the application of hand-waving justifications that would justly repulse any decent man if ever applied to a real-life dictator or warlord. It would be apt, then, to remember from our common wisdom that it is a road paved with "good intentions" that leads to Hell - or Chaos, in this case.
The slobbering Revan fanatics in real life always had the exact same blind spot that Revan himself does in-universe: it is the same stink of self-righteous, hollowly-justified hypocrisy which they rail against the Jedi for having. "Screw those damn Jedi!" they say one minute. "Those elitist, isolated, unfeeling bastards who abuse, kill, and manipulate as many people as they want just because they're powerful and they think they know what's best for the whole galaxy!" Then Revan shows up and they fall on their faces in rapture because he has all of the Jedi vices to the point of superabundance. But Revan gets a pass on it because he's special, you see - he's not like the other Jedi and Sith. He's enlightened, so he gets to decide. Revan gets to say that the Republic and the Jedi Order aren't worth reforming peacefully. Revan gets to say that treason is justified. Revan gets to say that his rule over the galaxy would be so much more peaceful and prosperous than the Republic's or Emperor Vitiate's. Revan gets to decide who lives and who dies, based on who's useful to him or not. Because he's the player character.
But anyway, as I have been trying to say, what makes Revan's story actually memorable and interesting is that, as a consequence of his capture and amnesia, his life is actually two lives. The first is the rise and fall of a great hero, echoing the stories of Exar Kun and Anakin Skywalker (and, not to mention, many of the archetypal stories of human literary history). The second is of that same fallen hero, who returns from death as another person, so to speak, only to discover the person he once was; in his second life, Revan must face the burden and consequences of the first life and come to terms with both. The central drama is the question of how he will do this. The game's alternatives, of course, are of repeating the tragedy of the first life by becoming a villain again, or defying it by being redeemed as a true hero. The all-important layer which TSL adds to this arc is, of course, the whole True Sith thing - this terrible, unseen threat out there which is not only ultimately responsible for Revan's fall, but also is still at large. The triumph over Malak is revealed to only have been the beginning of a far more desperate struggle; the tension between the two lives is not resolved; Revan is still haunted by the first one. Thus, the central arc of his character is extended, and the dramatic question from KotOR is extended, potentially into the distant future. Without ever showing it, TSL turns the struggle of Revan's life into something like itself: long, dark, and bleak. Is he strong enough? Will he pass this test a second time - or fail it a second time?
As I see it, that is a tremendously compelling character arc, one that needs no addition or obfuscation by a romantic subplot - not one that lasts, at any rate. There's nothing wrong with Bastila or with Carth (only, as I said above, with the fans), but having them be too closely attached to Revan detracts from his character. He's spiritually joined the ranks of the cast of TSL. He is now a a seething, larger-than-life galactic mass of torment. Don't give me any crap where he and Bastila get married and move into a space-apartment and throw a party and play pazaak and go shopping together. Revan's heart is only interesting when it is a broken thing, and the few people on this planet who have written him well understood this.
A short addendum, in case I misrepresented myself above. I did not mean - or should not have meant - to say that KotOR or Revan's character is marred by any romance whatsoever. If he wants to smooch Bastila, that's fine; if he's a she and she wants to smooch Carth, well, if you insist. And if it's contained to the events of KotOR itself, perhaps a short period after, and even up to Revan's disappearance, that's ideal. If, however, the romantic subplot remains in the foreground (or, worse, if it strangles and takes the place of the main plot), then that does detract from the story; unless it is cut short or by other means rendered unfulfilled, it can only do harm.
I suppose that this entire position of mine may be nothing more than a rationalizing extension of my inability and unwillingness to write romance in my own fiction. That may in fact be the case, but it's what I've got and I'm sticking to it. Till next time. -MPK, Free Man 20:14, January 2, 2016 (UTC)
IV - On TSL's Plot Holes and Contradictions, with a Focus on its Ending
- For some years, it seemed that one of the ways in which the fans of TSL were most pleased to fawn over the supposed brilliance of its plot was by parroting Kreia's statement toward the game's end that "there is no great revelation, no great secret," no sudden twist that changes everything like we had in KotOR. Having looked back on this matter and failed to find or recall any adequate explanation of what they meant by this statement, I have found it to be solemn, snobbish sophistry. Of course there's a great big fat revelation in the story. Two, in fact, and both revealed in the final act on Dantooine: first, you've been duped by Kreia, who is the final antagonist of the game; second, you're a living Force wound that feeds off of others and poses a potential threat to all life. These are big, important things that were not clear before they were revealed, and that meant a lot when they were revealed. They are twists - and it's okay, guys. Nothing's wrong with twists.
This silly opinion and others like it are basically the manifestations of what seems to be (or to have been) an idolatrous exaggeration of TSL's story quality, which I'll touch on later. But for all the fun we had experiencing that story, it is fairly riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, and self-contradictions. To this day I don't think that anyone has really been able to straighten it all out - and, I am convinced, no one ever could without altering the material we're given in the game, amputating this here and connecting those two things there, re-doing this and that. In this exploration here, I'll be elucidating the contradictions having to do with Kreia, the Exile, and the end of the game. There are others in different parts of the plot, but these are the most glaring and have to do with the central thematic essence of the story, and thus are the most important to discuss.
I think Kreia's great. She's well-written and her voice acting is superb. But at the end of the day, her goals and motivations are never adequately explained, and even a skim of them can show that they are contradictory - and perhaps the most bewildering part of it all is that we are reminded or informed concerning all of them within a short timespan. For instance, sometimes she is pure Sith Lord, bent on destroying the Jedi and the Sith who betrayed her, taking over Malachor again, and putting the Exile through the archetypal Sith final test: pitting one apprentice against another (the other being Sion) and then the surviving apprentice against the master, to the death, and may the strongest win and take supremacy. But other times her long-term goals seem entirely un-Sith, such as when she talks of sending the completely-trained Exile off to find Revan and defeat the True Sith. I suppose you could mash these two together, but then both seem to be rendered superfluous when Kreia talks about her desire to somehow use the Force wounds in Malachor V and/or the Exile to kill the Force - and, of course, the exact way in which she hopes to accomplish this is never hammered out. If I recall correctly, though, there is a loading screen blurb on Malachor which says something along the lines, "If the echoes from Malachor are not stopped, then all who can feel the Force will be either deafened or killed." It astounds me that this is apparently the only part of the game, cut or uncut, where that is plainly stated. And if there's nothing more to it than that, it seems to imply that her only goal would be to keep Malachor intact until it finishes the job for her.
One could argue against my charges of inconsistency by claiming that Kreia is just insane, and so it isn't a problem for her to have contradictory goals, but I don't think that was at all what the writers were trying to imply - at any rate, most fans of the game never seemed to pick up on this supposed insanity of hers. Nor did I ever get the impression that she changed her goals to suit new circumstances, since the different goals are spoken of in such close proximity and sometimes within the same conversation.
Then again, there may be a way out of this wamprat-trap. Maybe Kreia wasn't planning on destroying the Force anytime soon (not within the timeframe of TSL, anyway) because she couldn't, didn't know how. Maybe the plan was to take over Malachor again, get the Exile on her side, and devote her time to studying Force wounds and figuring out how they can be used to kill the Force, or even pass on this task to the Exile since Kreia's old and wrinkly and perhaps liable to kick the bucket within a decade or so. If that were the case, I suppose it wouldn't be an inconsistency for her to be working on this Evil Plan and sending the Exile (or someone) to slow down the True Sith, since they could easily show up on her doorstep and muck up said Plan. But again, this is not what the game gives us - I just put it together in my head, years after playing the game, elaborating on and slightly altering the source material. I mean, just for starters, in order for this to work we'd have to alter the final confrontation in which, as it stands, Kreia insists that she and the Exile have to fight to the death.
And this brings us to the other big plot snarl: any plan of Kreia's, or the Exile's, that involves the former getting killed by her apprentice in order to make said apprentice stronger (or whatever) falls apart when considered in light of the Force bond thing. You know, the plot thread established back on Peragus, where they're so closely Force-bonded that the Exile feels it when Kreia's hand is cut off, and they're pretty sure that if one dies, the other will too? Remember that plot point? Well, the game doesn't - you kill Kreia and you're completely fine, without explanation. It never gets broken, so far as we're told - after all, if you execute Atris on Telos, then Kreia will phone you all the way from Malachor and reminds you about the bond thing in order to blackmail you into coming to her. And I think that's the last mention of it anywhere in the whole game, even including salvageable cut content. Afterwards it's simply dropped.
This shouldn't be surprising. All this happened too long ago. The game was rushed like hell and never finished, and even the salvageable cut content isn't enough to reconstruct or even sketch out whatever the writers' originally-intended, cohesive, polished, refined story - both the overall plot as well as the finale - was supposed to look like (and take it from me, I played the game with the full content restoration mods - if those mods really represent the ending how it was supposed to be, then Chris Avellone isn't anywhere near the hot shit we all thought he was). I mean, who knows how insane the development process looked? Just consider all the things we do know that happened. A whole planet got cut. Mical was added in on the fly to replace a completely different party member who would've showed up on Korriban (which itself was gutted, I'm willing to bet). At one point they were going to have Atris join the party, for reasons that have not survived, and at another point she was going to be Darth Traya at the end, not Kreia - and who the hell knows what that was all about?
Speaking of which, this is one of the reasons why I think, in retrospect, that the quest of the TSL restoration modders was sort of doomed from the start (which made my obsession with them back in the day all the more idiotic): even they couldn't provide the complete, consistent, proper ending that we all pined after for such a long time. At best, they were left with only a few traces of that ending (on another note, KotOR's ending doesn't impress me either, but I can explain that some other time).
Anyway, it shouldn't surprise us that neither the (known) cut nor uncut content adequately explains how the Exile is able to survive dying with Kreia as a consequence of their Force bond. Master Vash's explanation (in the cut content, where you actually got to talk to her) is no help, either. If I remember it right, she basically says that a bond can be weakened and broken if one of the participants falls to the dark side or something. But this cannot apply to the Exile and Kreia because Kreia never falls to the dark side, she always was on the dark side in the first place (and don't give me crap about her being "neutral" or on the "gray side"). And this doesn't account for the different alignment changes that the Exile might go through during the course of the game. And besides, given the Exile's mutant Force bond-making-ness, whereby the bonds form super-fast and super-strong, it doesn't make sense that the normal means of safely breaking ordinary Force bonds would work for her. On a thematic note, this is because it simply isn't fair that the Exile is able to get out of this dilemma so easily. Everywhere in the game, except for Vash's cut and less-than-adequate talk, implies that you're thoroughly screwed. And as I'll explain later, I think this ought to have worked to the ending's advantage.
These issues, and others, are why I'm unable to stand with the party (possibly extinct now, for all I know) which worships at the tennis shoes of Chris Avellone. Obviously I will cut him (and whoever else wrote the story with him) some slack, given how rushed the game was, and given also that he prepared himself for writing by supposedly seeing every Star Wars movie and reading every book and comic from the EU - which shows ridiculous dedication, even if he is exaggerating. But the slack we cut him can only go so far before it transforms from good will toward a man into a dogma of Avellonian Infallibility. I've already complained in previous writings that he failed to "get" Star Wars, and that, knowing some of his opinions on it, it seems that he wrote Kreia (and Revan by extension) as mouthpiece characters so that he could bitch about everything in the movies and Jedi philosophy that he didn't like or didn't understand. At any rate, the fangirls who venerate him with asinine flattery ("He made the Star Wars I love, not George Lucas!") have done that with the characters, even if he didn't.
Still, we can find some solace in the fact that Avellone somehow managed to write a great story in spite of his apparent contempt for the universe in which he was writing - unlike the amateurs who took the same path. For a cardinal example of this, one need look no further (Force knows why one would, though) than the fanfic Prophet, Thing of Evil (one of the famous events here was the time I ranted about it on IRC). It's especially notable in this case for apparently preceding TSL's release (or else the authoress simply didn't play it) and yet attempting to do the same thing: challenge the conventional Force-philosophy and morality of Star Wars. The authoress accomplished this by reducing Revan from a fallen hero, seduced by the love of power and ruthless pragmatism, into a petulant, completely sociopathic woman-child whose ultimate goal, rather than uniting the galaxy under a powerful Empire (much less defending it against an invader from unknown space), is to get some peace and quiet so she can play house with her fuckbuddy Bastila - she doesn't hold even the slightest pretense that she's doing anything for the good of others. She starts the whole Jedi Civil War just because she's pissed that the Jedi stole her girlfriend from her, and at the story's climax and finale, she justifies all of her atrocities and vices with a revolting, nihilistic diatribe about how we're all going to die and all of our actions will eventually become meaningless, so as long as we're alive there's no point in restraining ourselves with philosophies, rules, or notions of morality; we should all just "be true to ourselves" and do whatever we think we ought. Great! That's a wonderfully uplifting message, Revan! I'm sure Nietzsche would be proud. When you wake up in Hell and meet the specters of all the millions of soldiers and civilians and Jedi who died because of you, I'm sure everyone'll feel a lot better after you finish explaining how they fucking needed to drown under the tidal waves of a galactic war so that you could be true to yourself. Don't worry, they'll reserve a special place in the ice just for you.
Ope, that was a tangent. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima.
Let's reel it back in. So in the end, we're given the snarl of Kreia's mutually exclusive goals on one hand, and her Force bond-enforced mandatory suicide pact with the Exile on the other. The former snarl can be untangled with only a small amount of tampering, but it's all for nothing unless it's also straightened out with the latter one. I think I have a solution that most people have overlooked.
As it stands, there's no way to get out of the final duel to the death unless the Exile joins Kreia in her quest to destroy the Force. But frankly, sometimes the Dungeon Master just needs to look you straight in the eye and tell you, "No, your character wouldn't do that." If you join Kreia, it's game over; she's absorbed your personality; you've sold your soul to the devil. As I'll explain elsewhere, we can afford to sympathize with the villain here - but we must not agree with her.
Okay, so if we discount the impossible option, it looks like there's no way for the protagonist to get out of the story alive. Kreia has to be stopped, and to be stopped she has to be killed, but if she dies, so does the Exile - and I think we should roll with that paradox instead of trying to solve it. Given the somber, bitter-sweet, Empire Strikes Back-esque tone of TSL, I'm inclined to think that it would make more sense, technically and thematically, to actually have the Exile die on Malachor with Kreia (or else aboard the Ebon Hawk immediately after - dying at a delayed effect so that she can give some last words to her companions, I suppose). That would save us from copping out on the suspense and dread that begins after Kreia reveals her true nature on Dantooine. Nor, as some naysayers might argue, would it negate the whole KotOR 3 sequel hook. Simply have it be the Exile's surviving party that leaves for the Unknown Regions. The KotOR 3, then, would follow up with a new protagonist who somehow or another follows in their footsteps.
I realize that the idea of a third act featuring Revan but not the Exile as major protagonists would surely be anathema to many or most old-school fans of the series - it would have been to myself as well, not very long ago. But as I look back on everything, it seems to me like a big mistake for the third act of KotOR to just drop the issue of the Exile's "living cosmic Force parasite" nature when such a big, screaming huge deal was made out of it in TSL itself right until its [non-]ending. And every KotOR 3 which I've read or heard of, including my own idea back in the day and the path that the official EU took, always downplayed this part of his character to the point of irrelevance. Visas or Mical is full of shit when one of them tells you after Dantooine that the threat which the Jedi Masters said you pose is merely "the danger of their beliefs." You're potentially another Nihilus and you can potentially be used to kill the Force. That's arguably a bigger deal than the True Sith. Surviving Malachor, even as a light-sider, doesn't solve this problem, and the fact that neither of TSL's endings give a satisfying solution - or even a satisfying failed solution - is one of the most troubling flaws in it.
Heck, you could even have this issue be the difference between the light and dark side endings of the game. In the former, the Exile would take the real Jedi way and let herself die with Kreia and Malachor so that neither the planet's wound nor her own can be used to threaten the galaxy any longer. In the latter, she'd refuse to make this necessary self-sacrifice and either escape the planet alive or else save it and take over Trayus Academy - thus becoming the quintessential Sith in the sense that, for all her strength, she is ultimately driven by a single fear that she (like Palpatine and Darth Plagueis) can never truly conquer: the fear of losing her power - and this final, narcissistic terror makes the Jedi path of self-denial unthinkable for her, no matter how dire the consequences of this refusal. Those consequences would necessarily include her return as one of the major villains of KotOR 3.
Of course, like the story we were given, the latter scenario fails to explain how the Exile could survive Kreia's death given the whole Force bond thing. Maybe she'd somehow imprison her or put her in stasis and thus keep them both alive? Alternatively, what if Dark-Exile - instead of going stabby-stab - Force-Drains Kreia to death in the same way as the Jedi Masters - could that perhaps successfully kill her and remove the bond without it being fatal? Maybe, I don't know. But if we were going to take the time to give TSL another coat of paint, we could figure this out.
And hey, here's a KotOR 3 fic idea from out of left field: go with the dark side endings of both games - KotOR and the one I just proposed for TSL. Keep the common fan premise where whoever's left goes into the Unknown Regions and teams up with Revan, but here's the twist: somehow or other they take out the Sith Emperor - like, early on. They throw the Empire into chaos. But then, because they're dark-sided, they turn out to be the real villains of the story: Revan, the Exile, evil Bastila, and everyone else who's still alive and dark-sided from both games' main cast. For your heroes, start with one or two party members who deserted or were left behind or something on account of still being light-sided - such as Handmaiden, Disciple, Mira, perhaps Atton, or even T3 - and throw in a couple original characters, and maybe a third "hero of KotOR 3" to lead them.
So anyway, those are the options for a completed ending of TSL, as I see it: you either die a hero or live long enough to become another Nihilus. Does it sound bleak? Please suffer me another sort-of-tangent at this point. I am not saying that you can't ever have a happy ending. I am not saying that you can't ever have a story where the heroes survive and are triumphant, without the victory being a pyrrhic or bittersweet one. But you can't have that story be this one - TSL - with these characters, unless you want to discard the very things about the plot and characters that made them compelling in the first place. The story reaches its maximum dramatic tension after Kreia shows her true colors: you have to stop her, and if you run away you'll die, but if you face her you're pretty much sure to die then, too. The Force bond thing, remember? Of course you do. That's the linchpin that gives the game's finale all of its weight - it's the same sort of weight that we have in Return of the Jedi when Luke goes to the Death Star, fully expecting that he'll die there - all because he has to try to redeem his father. The same weight can be seen in the Iliad with the story of Achilles: the gods have decreed that the Greeks will not win the Trojan War without him, but they've also decreed that he will die if he does help them. In the end he rejoins the battle to avenge Patroclus and all the other friends he's lost, even though he knows he won't live to enjoy the spoils of victory. This weight is the same weight present in any story where the hero must choose to come to terms with a destiny that is larger than himself and that he cannot change, but that he nevertheless is called to. It is when a hero is challenged to pay a terrible price, and not in exchange for great riches or fame or anything of that sort, but rather for the sake of some deeper, higher reality or truth which is judged to be effectively more concrete, more important, more real than safety, prosperity, and life itself. It is the challenge, one could say, for the hero to make the exact choice which would brand him a fool in the eyes of the pragmatist, the cynic, the materialist: the choice to (in symbols or in fact) give up all the goods of the world for the sake of one's soul.
This archetypal plot is immortal, and it's one of the most compelling things in our human tradition. Which is why I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate it when a writer sets up a great, tremendous, terrible crucible for the hero to pass through, only to throw in some stupid, hackneyed, contrived loophole at the last minute that allows them to get the payoff of the crucible while completely shielding and exempting them from its actual consequences - that kind of get-off-scott-free bullshit doesn't happen in real life or real fiction. To my mind, this is epic and dramatic storytelling's Unpardonable Sin, the most vile and despicable species of cop-out. J. K. Rowling performed what I think is the perfect, archetypal modern example of this: she sets up Harry Potter so that (somehow or another) he's actually got the last Horcrux subsisting in his soul or something. For the uninformed, the Horcruxes are the Magic Plot Coupons that all need to be destroyed in order to stop Darth Voldemort from coming back to life again and again. So after a lot of other stuff happens, the crucible is reached: Harry bites the bullet and lets Voldemort kill him. We see it happen. We see the villain of the story carry the dead body of the hero to the gates of Hogwarts, where he gloats at all of Harry's friends. And right there, when the audience feels the most for this heroic sacrifice, Harry comes the fuck back to life. He's one hundred percent alive again and ready to fight. No side-effects, not even a hangover, for fuck's sake. He comes back, but the Magic Plot Coupon is gone. The sacrifice is undone; its price is refunded, but the reward is still given. It all comes down to the simple, stark fact that, to what should be her everlasting shame and disgrace, Rowling simply didn't have the guts to actually kill off her hero and let him stay dead (I sure wish I was able to write and publish a bunch of pandering young adult fantasy novels and get rich and be hailed as the next Tolkien). So in the end Harry's great and terrible decision becomes a spiritual fraud. To draw an analogy, Orthodoxy is overcome by Docetism; but in reality the Son of Man has to actually be a man and die on the Cross, or else Christianity is a joke.
The point is that if a story is going to include the heroic crucible, then there has to be a cost, for success as well as failure. There has to be. Jedi's is that Luke redeems his father, but his father dies in order to destroy the Emperor. But there's no cost in the end for Harry Potter, and neither is there one for the Exile. The difference between the latter two is that I can avoid being disgusted with Chris Avellone on a personal level because it's probably not his fault. What probably happened is that the rushed development and whatever else was going on scrambled up his brains, and one way or another the ending was prevented from taking the shape that it was supposed to.
V: Why Kreia Is Wrong and That's the Whole Freaking Point
First of all, guys, yes I'm still alive. Second, I'm going to do my damnedest to make this following monstrosity my very last big essay that has to do with KotOR (though in the future there may be a few that are about my own fanfic ideas that are set in the same era). So yeah, may the Force be with me.
You know how I've said that Carth Onasi isn't a problem, but what he's turned into by the fangirls is? Kreia's the same way. The following statement may or may not sound odd - I really have no statistical or demographic understanding of the KotOR fandom except my own personal experience with and in it - but I often got the impression that quite a lot of fans hated Kreia. That's how she so often got treated in the fanfic that I happened to peruse, anyway. When she appeared at all, it was most often so that Fem-Exile (because she was always a female, most of the time) could ignore her advice, prove her wrong, and tell her to shut up (they did this a lot with Master Vrook, too). But there seemed to also be a sizable sub-segment of people who liked Kreia so much that they agreed with her views on the Force and such. And as I've written before here, that's the worst possible thing you can do with the villain of a story. Sympathize, understand, all that's good - but not agreement.
The reader ought to be familiar with all Kreia's shit, so I'm not going to waste time summarizing it all. Suffice it so say that if we were to turn Kreia into a person in real life, she'd be a super-die-hard Calvinist. She would believe that God pre-destines all people from eternity to be saved or damned, and that they are predestined without any regard for their choices and without their having any say in the matter; all of their choices and their fates made for them, to the extent that they are arguably more clockwork toys than actual moral agents. And Kreia would be that, but she would also want to believe that people have free will and choose their eternal destinies (as in Christian orthodoxy), but for whatever reason she would just be unable to convince herself of it. From her perspective, she'd be trapped in the wrong universe with the wrong god, because that's what she is in TSL.
Her whole worldview, and by extension the morality of her master plan, hinges on her belief "that the Force has a will, it has a destiny for us all"; that it uses people and directs their destinies to "balance" itself and regulate itself, et cetera. If Kreia is wrong about the Force having a will, or even about what that will is, then her worldview is wrong and her plan is stone-cold crazy and evil. But I'll say it again. I think Kreia's a great and interesting character, and it's not supposed to be because she's right, but because you could understand why she comes to believe in what she does.
Still, I'd like to note that I can and do chuckle at the legitimate wisdom and insight in JM76's summary of TSL as "just [the player] listening to a geriatric villainess lecture you on her twisted view of the Force for ten hours".
This actually puts me in mind of one of the KotOR fanfics of mine that never saw the light of day. I came up with it approximately immediately right after I finished reading James Luceno's Darth Plagueis novel. Possessed of a delusion that I was the first person to do so, I came up with the idea of writing a story that would give Revan the same sort of treatment that Luceno did to Plagueis and Sidious: a comprehensive explanation of the evolution of Revan from her early Jedi career through the Mandalorian Wars and to the completion of her turn to the dark side. I will say more on this story later or elsewhere, but the relevant bit here is that, in my feverish fit of making notes on what this story of mine would contain, I wanted to go into detail on Revan's different masters, what their different views on the Force were, and what sort of view she ended up adopting. In particular, I wanted to portray a contrast between what Revan learned from Kreia and what she learned from Arren Kae (incidentally, no, they are not the same person, that's baloney). The former would have been a believer in the Force as a living, thinking thing that has a personal destiny for everyone. Kae, in contrast, would have encouraged Revan to forget about such esoteric long-term thinking and focus on the present moment, allowing "destiny" to take care of itself (my character notes also said of Kae: "Despite her Jedi virtues, she is passionate, hot-blooded, and never takes more than ten seconds to make up her mind about anything").
I mention this old story idea of mine mostly because I'm slapping together this essay on the fly and I just happened to think of it. But to reel it back in: one of the kinds of creative potential that Star Wars has, and which I am most enthusiastic for, is that the Force and the Jedi provide an ideal opportunity, to put it ineloquently, to discuss or comment on philosophy and spirituality by way of allegory. Even in just the movies we can see that they're sort of a blend of eastern and western traditions: they follow codes and disciplines in the spirit of Christian monasticism, yet the emphasis on meditation, enlightenment, oneness with the universe, et cetera come from the spirit of the Orient. But as we know, Star Wars was very, very seldom used for the purposes of talking about spirituality and philosophy - TSL being one of the only exceptions.
And as I said above, whether Kreia deserves for any real-life person to agree with her depends on whether her particular view of the living, thinking, self-regulating, cosmic solitaire-playing Force is true or not. But contrary to Kreia's naysaying apologists, her point of view is not clearly or indisputably the right one. They commonly would say that the repeated wars of Jedi and Sith constitute direct evidence that the Force is using these terrible conflicts to sustain itself at the expense of all the rest of life. But that is no evidence one way or the other; it is only data, and incomplete data at that. Kreia doesn't really know anything that nobody else does, except for some of the stuff about the Force wounds. She hasn't looked behind the curtain and found any Wizard of Tython. At the end she's taking a shot in the dark, same as anyone else.
Cancerous Tangent: A Look at a Kreia Apologist, with Mumbling About Parallels Between Art and Real Life
Warning, time for another semi-tangent - or at least a drag to make this all take longer. There was once a gentlewoman known as "Allronix" who I think sufficies as the archetypal Kreia apologist, having seemingly had Star Wars ruined for her by TSL. Rather than speaking for her, I'll quote her:
“The philosophy angle was [TSL's] only redeeming feature. I've said in other places that Kreia, as much as I disliked her, probably had the right idea about the Force being uncaring and cruel. Atton [...] had a scathingly brutal grain of truth in his rant about 'men and women, arguing over religion while the galaxy burns.' It had the side effect of an Alan Moore and Grant Morrison binge. Beautifully miserable illustration of how truly screwed up the situation was, brilliant deconstruction of everything that you thought was cool about said universe, saying a lot of things that probably needed to get said... But in the end? You're left looking over your stacks of Silver Age comics and you can't un-see Rorschach and Ozymandias.”―The Lady on a Lucasforums thread, 'After playing KOTOR how did TSL make you feel?'[src]
“Right now, one of the reasons I'm really stuck when it comes to writing anything for the GFFA is because that kriffing witch Traya had a point. So did that borderline alcoholic and chronic gambler Mr. Rand. Both [Jedi and Sith] are men and women who have too much power, no checks on that power, want to destroy the other faction completely (by conversion or death), and turn the galaxy into a blood-soaked battleground over and over again, fighting the same oversized gang war for 25,000+ years while solving absolutely nothing and killing untold trillions in the crossfire.”―Her Again on a Lucasforums thread, 'Would you rather be a SITH or a JEDI?!?!?'[src]
“You have these mystics on Tython who discover they can pull strings on the web of life to do some pretty nifty things. Inevitably, because sentient beings are what they are, they start mangling it to fit ideology. The Force seems jealous, cruel, isolating, insanity-inducing, and frankly doesn't give a bantha's butt about either side...in short, being a Force Sensitive is the absolute worst fate someone can be inflicted with...but, hey, at least it means you're a player on the board and not just one of the pawns killed in the gang war crossfire.”―Her Yet Again on a Lucasforums thread, 'The Force- Good or Bad?'[src]
That's a pretty good summary of her viewpoint, I think. She's definitely exaggerating like hell in some of her other posts where she says that Jedi literally are forbidden from feeling emotions and having friends and all that jazz. Overall, it's about the most depressing and cynical interpretation that one could possibly make of Star Wars. I'd go nearly so far as to call it laughably cynical, since I am forced to conclude that this person could not feel good about Luke Skywalker redeeming his father, since it was all just part of a galactic gang war, as she consistently referred to the conflict between dark and light.
Particularly interesting (and troubling) is the fact that Allronix was also (I use past tense because I don't know or want to know what has become of her) a prolific KotOR fan fiction author. Which, in my opinion, ought to be regarded as a case of some malady not entirely dissimilar to sadomasochism. I mean, yes, you can go with this interpretation of Star Wars if you insist on it. I can't exactly stop you. But I can't imagine why someone would stay so devoted to this fictional universe while at the same time looking on its basic moral and metaphysical foundations with such abhorrence.
But I'd like to wax philosophy again, and I will start by zeroing in on the bit that I put in bold on the third quotation: "Inevitably, because sentient beings are what they are, they start mangling it to fit ideology." This makes her sound like all of the dreary, self-wise unitarians and skeptics and "spiritual-but-not-religious" types of the modern west. More than once I've heard or read such people say that the ultimate crime of the historic Christian Church (and, by extension, of all large institutional religions) was not some particular crusade or inquisition, but the very first moment at which these religions became solid - when, they argue, the human vision of God was "imprisoned" by the dogmatism of men. A more precise and direct way of putting it would be to say that the great sin of the ages was when religious people first worked up the gall to make up their minds about something, to decide that they would believe very strongly in some particular thing - unlike these moderns, who either believe very strongly in absolutely nothing, or else believe very strongly in nothing in particular.
They labor under a rather superstitious conviction that the human race would not be able to come up with any reasons to exploit, imperialize, be racist, make war, or commit any large-scale atrocities if it weren't for religion. Of course, now it's me who's taking a wild shot in the dark, but I'd bet a few bucks that Allronix is, or was, a secular humanist of some stripe or another. Art rhymes with real life, so a certain reaction to "religion" in Star Wars rhymes with a certain reaction to religion in real life. One observes that there have been thousands and thousands of years of war and unrest that must be explained; and approaching the problem from this particular angle makes it impossible to acknowledge that evil is both universal and intrinsic to all men, and therefore man cannot fully excise it from himself. Or, as an actual writer once put it:
“Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin--a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.”―G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter I: The Maniac[src]
So while we don't have Original Sin in Star Wars, we have the exact same sort of evil in all of its species that we have among us in real life. So for Kreia, or anyone, to blame it on the Force or the Jedi religion is about as absurd as blaming it on art, or shoes, or any other perfectly sane and normal thing that people have. The truth turns out to be the exact opposite of the maxim: it's actually the mystics who are the most eminently practical and down-to-earth. Materialists and humanists are the ones who are kept out of touch from reality by forces abstract and ethereal; they think that the problem of humanity is small enough for humanity to solve.
Aside from my hunch that Allronix got to this conclusion because of a secularist mentality (which, I admit, is still only a hunch), the rest of her problem is plainly that she decided Chris Avellone is more integral to Star Wars than George Lucas.
Put another, broader way, when it comes to evaluating Star Wars itself as an artistic narrative, accepting every single bit of media in all of their details is a straight path to insanity. Sure, it doesn't help that the writers of the EU kept perpetuating a status quo of galactic history which gave the impression of a Jedi Order whose teachings never changed size, shape, consistency, or application in ten thousand years. And yes, Chris Avellone may have criticized and railed against that status quo, but he also chose to stay in line and help perpetuate it, to help make sure that almost every single galactic crisis is a Jedi-Sith conflict, and to help make sure that the Jedi Order is always the same exaggerated caricature of the one we see in the Prequel films.
ENOUGH; OR, TOO MUCH
Now that I've written all that shit above - badly organized and hacked together though it be - I'll never have to write or think about it ever, ever again.
So to get back on track: we have Kreia assuming that the Force is some cosmic parasite that is responsible for all these wars and terrible things in the galaxy, and the only way to free everybody is to kill it. Sounds good, right? There's just one catch: as Atris and others point out (in cut content and out of it), this plan just might sorta, kinda, maybe kill everything everywhere. So our unsung heroine Ubermensch has decided that a genocide of unprecedented scale is a necessary price to pay for the end of all the Jedi and Sith. But hey, I'll give her credit for one thing; one way she's actually not a huge, flaming hypocrite is that she's apparently fine with herself being killed by the completion of her own plan and joining her quintillions of victims in the void, since the Force presumably can't sustain an afterlife if it's dead.
"But MPK, oh MPK," you might say, "Even if it was as bad as all that, you're forgetting about the Yuuzahn Vong, who are completely outside the Force. And that droid species that nobody remembers, and that other one from that one Marvel comic book. They'd probably be fine. Kreia can kill the Force, and everyone without the Force could survive and be free!" To that I say, go ahead and dig into the deepest dregs of the EU to support yourself. And suppose you're right. Suppose the Vong would survive, along with a couple other odd species. For that matter, give yourself the best-case scenario: say that regular plants and animals survive, and the only people who die would be Force-users and actual Force-sensitives - even then, we're talking a decent percentage of the universe's population, not to mention a number of entire intelligent species which are Force-sensitive, such as the Miraluka. What about everyone else? And if you don't get the best-case scenario, what about all the normal animal and plant life, which is also connected to the Force? And here's something that these oh-woe-is-us-the-whole-galaxy-is-swallowed-up-by-the-Jedi-and-Sith-wars crowd forgets: there's all manner of civilizations that never came into contact with the Jedi, Sith, or Republic, let alone been victims of their wars. We hardly ever see much of them directly, but they do exist - in Wild Space, the Unknown Regions, and so on. Shouldn't they get any say in this?
And since we're on that path, why don't you tell me, thou hypothetical Kreia apologist: you believe in self-determination of the individual and individual choice and freedom and all that good shit, right? That's why you don't like the Jedi and Sith gallavanting across the galaxy fucking up everyone else without their all-holy consent, right? Then tell me, just who the hell is Kreia to decide all this, without anyone else's consent? What gives her the right to appoint herself as the ultimate representative of all sapient beings, and to decide for them all that life without the Force and death are both better than life with it? Just because she's butthurt that she got rejected by the Sith and the Jedi, and her favorite apprentice went down in history as a treasonous galactic dictator? Just because she thinks she's pretty damn sure that the Force is using fate and destiny to control the lives of everyone, and things would obviously be so much better without it? She's so sick of the Jedi thinking that they know better than everyone, when it's really she who knows better than everyone? What a bloody convenient coincidence for her.
At the end of the day, Kreia is willing to potentially destroy an unfathomable percentage of all the life in the universe - not the galaxy but the universe - in order to get revenge on a god who, for all she knows, may not even exist. She is, then, what she claims to despise the most about the Jedi, the Sith, and the intelligent Force that she believes in: a distant, isolated, inhuman persona that is willing to unleash destruction and misery upon all of creation for the sake of some esoteric, mysterious "greater good" that the overwhelming majority of her victims couldn't care less about (particularly when stacked against the value of life itself). Kreia talks like she wants to bring freedom to the common people of the galaxy, but those common people would shake their fists at her elitism and arrogance just as angrily as they would at even the most ivory-towered shut-ins of the Jedi Order.
VI: How I Would Have Written a Light-Sided Exile
I don't believe that even once in any fanfic did I ever encounter an Exile who did not rub me the wrong way. There was almost always superficially dumb things like plot-strangling romances, half-assed additions to her backstory, and so on. But the fundamental and almost ubiquitous problem was that it never seemed to occur to these authoresses that these characters ought to bear some resemblance to people in real life, who expand, shrink, learn, un-learn, and change as time goes on; and that when it comes to straight-forward good-guy protagonists, they ought to be changing somehow for the better, striving inch-by-inch for greater knowledge, wisdom, and maturity despite making mistakes and suffering setbacks along the way.
I picked up these truths in my first literature classes at community college and was disappointed at how rarely I encountered them in TSL fanfics. And, I dare say, there's hardly a more ideal (or a more obvious) character for whom there ought to be some serious growth than our dear friend the Exile. Instead, the authoresses were always harping on how much better she was than the Jedi Council and their loyalists, how she and the Jedi Crusaders ("Revanchist" is a stupid term) were all so noble and cool for standing for their principles and going to the aid of others and fighting the man who was trying to keep them down - and, most notably, that the Exile's opinion of herself and her motivations went unchanged in the ten years between Malachor and the events of TSL. I've long thought that this was completely the wrong approach, because it gives us a static character, a woman who never grows, never actually learns anything.
Here's how I would have done it, before I decided to go home and rethink my life: "my" Exile would be named Jorus, and he would be a dude. And at some point, while drumming up fanfic ideas, I looked at all the accusations and suspicions from the Jedi Masters and thought to myself, wouldn't it make for an interesting character arc if it was basically all true? You can even sort of play it this way during the game - one of my favorite bits of dialogue is on Telos, where (if I remember it right) you first talk to the Handmaiden and she tells you that Atris thinks you fell to the dark side during the Mandalorian Wars, that you joined for the excitement and glory of battle, all that jazz, and one of the potential responses is a terse, unconvincing denial: "She's... exaggerating."
The backstory for Jorus, then, would be that as a young Padawan he had a prideful streak and a couple other minor vices. Then promotion to Jedi Knighthood went to his head and he quickly became a rebellious, arrogant asshole. Take Anakin Skywalker from the Prequels, extract every last drop of whatever likability he may have had, and you'd get this guy. He's exceptionally powerful and skilled, but seeing how he behaves himself, you'd be baffled as to how he's so good at rallying and motivating troops later on in the war. He's the sort of conceited prick who got a red lightsaber literally just so he'd stand out on the battlefield. He messily ends his friendship with his loyalist master and totally joins the war because he thinks he's hot shit and wants to be hailed as a hero when it's all over. And despite all his talents, accomplishments, and potential, Revan eventually decides that he's too much of a loose cannon, which is why she sends him to Malachor: to get rid of him and everyone else under her command who she doesn't want to keep around.
Jorus keeps his head high at first when he goes to face the Jedi Council after the war, ranting about how Revan and himself are so much worthier to be called Jedi than they are, how Revan and her apprentices and himself are the ones who deserve to be ruling the Order, and so on. By the end of the meeting, though, he realizes that he's lost everything that he cares (or thinks he cares) about having: his Force power is gone, he's no longer a Jedi, his few remaining friends died at Malachor, and worst of all, Revan herself has hung him out to dry. He practically worshiped her, thinking he was going to be her number one guy, and she casually set him aside. He leaves Coruscant with none of his pride and dignity left.
Fast-forward to the events of the game. Part of Jorus' character arc consists in him being forced to think about everything that he's been trying not to think about for the past ten years, to realize what an idiot he once was. He doesn't decide that the Jedi Council was completely right about everything - he doesn't know what they should have done. But he knows himself, and he's eventually able to admit that his motivations were selfish and petty. To borrow a word from Christian morality, he repents. In the past, he was a Jedi only in outward appearance, because he thought he was worthy of it and then some. In the present, he is able to become a Jedi in fact, despite being an exile, precisely because he believes that he isn't worthy to be one at all. -MPK, Free Man 14:19, July 30, 2016 (UTC)
VII: The KotOR Fan Novel Duology That I Seriously Really Wanted To Write, and a Few Other Ideas
At some point between the beginning of essay two and the end of essay five I remembered that at the very beginning of this "little" (cough) project that I said something about focusing on my own fan writings, including the ones that I never actually released or even wrote. But I pressed on in my tangential commentary on the KotOR series, secure in the hope that finishing it would allow me to get it out of my system and move on. This is the moving on.
The first two stories that I released here, River and Through Glass, were both KotOR-centric, and so was the next bigass project that I came up with after I lost interest in the Dark Order series (one of the times I did, at any rate). Though I was happy with the fanfics I had written up to that point (not to mention the feedback on them), I decided to get away from Revan as the protagonist. So I was challenged to come up with a cast of original characters and an original plot that wasn't half-written for me already (as is the case with every hypothetical KotOR 3).
My mind's a funny thing, and sometimes the stories I contrive start with the littlest and flimsiest of spitballed brainstorms. I got in my head the image of a duel happening between a Jedi who had a red lightsaber and a Sith with a blue one: "anti-hero versus anti-villain", I called it. I suppose that initially my thought was of writing a story about a corrupted Jedi and a virtuous Sith. I didn't really keep that premise, but the image itself, significant only in the effect of mis-matching the costumes and the weapons of the two as-yet utterly undeveloped characters, did survive.
The title of book one was Knights of the Old Republic: Burning Fronts. I was never happy with this title, but never came up with another one. In any case, basically everyone in this story was a Jedi because I didn't know how to do anything else in fanfic. The main protagonists were two Jedi brothers, Derek and Revel Sienan. Two of the Order's best and brightest, sent as part of a bigass Republic campaign aimed at the heart of the Sith Empire's territory. It was to be the story of two Jedi who almost became the heroes of their era, but didn't. A big influence to this effect was The Force Unleashed, which was the story of the man who challenged Darth Vader and the Empire before Luke Skywalker did, and who almost went on to become the hero of the Rebellion. Derek and Sienan were basically supposed to be that for the KotOR era. As the reader will see, however, the ending of Burning Fronts would make all the difference between my "heroes" and Starkiller.
So here's the deal. I don't feel like quadrupling this essay by including in it a summary of the story when there's still an intact outline of it. I therefore encourage the reader to follow the link above to the Rebus Files and read it there, and come back.
Okay, I think I've given you enough time.
Looking back on it, then, I think the whole thing was really meant to be a character piece about Derek and Revel. That's why the whole Republic military campaign plot and Bastila's part in the story fade into irrelevance as soon as our two protagonists have both gone AWOL. Clearly the best and most well thought-out element of Burning Fronts was the series of moral crucibles that I insisted on subjecting our two heroes to: they're the three Musketeers with Kerria, but then they're broken up when Derek gets sent behind enemy lines; Kerria gets captured, Revel loses a battle badly and loses his shit; Derek infiltrates the Sith, only to wind up doing terrible things in order to maintain his cover; the two brothers meet and fight, both fallen to the dark side, and only Revel walks away alive - into exile. This series of events is what the story was about, and in my notes I had it fleshed out to much more precise and eloquent detail than I have here.
Which is why everything else in the plot is so hacked together. The primary purpose of the "everything else" is to get us from one link in that single chain of character development to the next, and this is more obvious at some points than at others - see the notes I added to my outline. And despite how much time I spent on character notes and such, I don't think I ever fully distinguished Derek and Revel in terms of personality; only in terms of the actions they take, if that makes any sense. Their quirks and distinctiveness, I never really cemented that in my head, except a generic idea that Revel's the bigger brother and Derek is more insecure.
There is one bit about them I did like from their backstory, though. This isn't clear at all from the outline, but the idea was that throughout the narrative there'd be references (and perhaps flashbacks) to a really disastrous event in both their lives early in the Jedi Civil War. They were supposed to be with their master, Drevveka Hoctu, fighting in this battle on Corellia. Shit gets really bad because they're in the middle of the city of Coronet and the Sith are bombing the crap out of the place anyway, and then Hoctu chooses this moment to defect to the Sith. She tries to get Derek to follow her and almost kills him when he doesn't (his bacon only gets saved by Revel and maybe Kerria). In any case they all escape, but it's supposed to be the first time that Derek and Revel are actually really exposed to how horrendous war can be, compounded by their own master betraying them.
So Derek's infiltration of the Thule academy is made all the more perilous by all this, because there's a huge "Oh, crap" moment when he realizes that the place is being run by his twisted former master. The funny thing is, she sort of sees through the act he puts on of a disgruntled Jedi, but she's so obsessed with the idea of getting her old apprentice back that she turns a blind eye to it (one of many cases in this story where the influence of the dark side blinds people to things that they otherwise would be able to understand clearly). When he stumbles in his Sith training, she cuts him slack that she never would anyone else. For instance, there'd be this scene where he's getting trained to use Sith lightning, but scandalously cannot bring himself to test it out on a Republic prisoner, and Hoctu is all like, "Tsk tsk tsk, you'll get it eventually, my dear," which pisses off Krennel (her actual apprentice) and helps lead to his later fight with Derek.
Though one of the major villains, Drevveka Hoctu was ultimately supposed to be a pathetic character. Not just twisted and evil, but deluded on account of her proud, petty desire to turn both of her old apprentices, leading to the mistakes that end up being the end of her. Ironically, she neglected to cultivate the Sith version of a Jedi virtue, namely non-attachment. Darth Voren has no such problem, which is why he executes Hoctu with little fanfare once he's sure he can get away with it.
If there was a single theme to the story, or a "moral meaning", I suppose that what I wanted to do (at the same time as simply telling a good story set in this era) was deconstruct the idea that ends can justify means, that evil (read: the dark side) can be used for good, that one must be pragmatic before one is moral - basically, to deconstruct what just so happen to be all the standard rationalizations put forward for Darth Revan's actions. Not that that was directly what I set out to do, but that's one way we could describe it. Because Derek does the exact same thing and so does Revel, taking shortcuts and making excuses - "It's all up to me, I have to be the ubermensch who breaks the rules and does what I have to in order to save the galaxy" - and it ends up horribly backfiring and ruining everything they set out to do. Kerria's death scene was supposed to be the most highly-concentrated dose of this. Derek's made it to the inside of the Sith, getting pretty high up on the totem pole thanks to his reputation and the urgency of the war. He's set to gain the trust of the higher-ups and surely find some critically important information to steal that could help the Republic win the war. As it happens, all he's got to do to in order to cement their trust is murder one of his best friends. Oh, and the Sith will kill them both if he doesn't, and Kerria straight-up tells him that she'd rather they both die as Jedi together.
It was one of the most dramatic and climactic scenes I never wrote.
Derek goes with the former option, under the rationalization that sacrifices have to be made if the war is to be won, and it would do no good for him to fail his (self-decided) mission by throwing away both their lives for nothing - thus implicitly saying that his friendship with Kerria, his Jedi principles, and his own soul are worth nothing. Naturally he barely believes his own bullshit, but he just keeps going with it to the end, to the point that later on he's willing to kill even his brother if he thinks he has to. You see, every person has a philosophy of life, a picture of what they believe about life, the universe, and everything; and when people write, their philosophy goes into it whether they consciously try to put it in there or not. One thing I believe is that though there are unavoidable evils, there is no such thing as a necessary evil. I'm very much an "Even if the whole world should perish, let justice be done" type of guy.
Okay. What else is worth talking about here?
Oh, "Who's Kerria?", you ask? Good question. That was another thing I wanted to figure out later, and probably would have if I'd gotten around to actually writing this damn thing. I think that she's what they on TVTropes would call the "Sacrificial Lion", that is, a major-ish heroic character who gets killed off so that the reader can know we're dealing with some serious shit. My character notes also indicate that I had this vague idea of Kerria as a more intellectual, contemplative, and self-controlled person than either Derek or Revel. More of a real Jedi than either of them, in other words; the moral center of the trio, to the point that once Revel has lost her and Derek has betrayed (and, like, killed) her, there's no one else who is able to reach them and keep them on the right path.
Aside from wanting to give Kerria a decent background and a personality that was distinct from Derek and Revel, I also kicked around some ideas on how to pull off her fate as a twist, or at least as something that the reader wouldn't see coming from a mile away. I thought of pulling a fast one by giving her a share in the narrative's point of view, including her time in captivity after getting captured by the Sith on Toprawa - so it'd look like she's one of three protagonists with Derek and Revel, and then WHAM.
But again, all of this was half-baked. My biggest mistake, of course, was thinking about it instead of writing it.
As the outline shows, Burning Fronts gets a pretty damn downer ending: The Republic campaign fails, Kerria's dead, and Revel kills Derek and decides to spend the rest of his life in exile on Arda Prime. Granted, the story was to end on a bit of a hope spot with the torch of responsibility being passed onto Bastila by default, but I felt like I needed to have some kind of a sequel in order to give Revel a chance of redemption.
So I came up with such a sequel idea. There's no complete outline remaining and I never came up with nearly as many details, so I'm mostly going off of memory here. Basically, fast-forward to some time after KotOR 2. Revel's still on Arda Prime, basically killing time for the rest of his life by killing shit. I had two different ideas, ones not really compatible with each other - on one hand I had this image of him as this sort-of-vigilante who goes around taking out his rage on crime syndicates across the planet, and on the other hand I imagined him shunning society and living entirely out in the wilderness, fighting beasts. And one day he crosses paths with a repentant ex-Sith named Amber. As for her backstory, I had this idea that she was driven to become a Sith by a desire to get revenge on somebody (a Jedi, a friend who betrayed her, I don't know, I never figured it out), but eventually she caught up with this person and killed him or her - or else he or she wound up dead in a completely unrelated series of events. But in any case once this happens, Amber somehow loses her stomach for the dark side because she no longer has anyone to get revenge on, so she goes on the run.
And somehow I figured that she'd run into Revel, who reluctantly would eventually agree to help her escape Arda Prime. A plot hole that I never bothered to fill in, of course, was what his motivation would be and why he wouldn't just kill her, since he's just spent like five years with no friends and doing nothing but fighting people because he doesn't like their faces, but like I said - plot hole. So the bulk of the story'd be them on the run from the Sith and trying to find a way to get her off-world. The main villain would be one of the secondary ones from Burning Fronts: Set, the Sith Master who took Derek from Thule, and failed to kill Derek when he went rogue from the Sith. I had this idea that Set would be slated for execution for this, but Darth Revan spared him because unlike many other Sith, she can see that he is a "patriot" of sorts, who cares more about the strength of the Sith Empire as a whole than for his own personal prestige. So that guy turns up in this "part two" as the guy who eventually steps into the post-TSL power vacuum to take over what little is left of the Sith Triumvirate, and it's him and his nameless apprentice who are pursuing Revel and Amber.
Once again, I think that (insofar as I had a solid idea of this story at all) it was mostly going to be a character piece about its two protagonists. This time around we've got two people with bad consciences who don't know what they ultimately want to do: Amber just wants to get away from the Sith, and Revel just wants to be left alone and eventually get himself killed, and somehow or another they need to figure out how to tolerate each other's existence. One ironic bit I had in mind, though, was that, between the two, Revel has lost more of his humanity over the years despite never being a Sith; he's gotten to the point that he literally doesn't eat, sleep, or drink, and sustains his body solely by semi-passively feeding off of the life energy of whatever he kills and off of the rush of battle; and for a while he tries to hide this from Amber.
But the reader can most likely figure out how it goes from there - almost. To my credit, I absolutely refused to consider having them fall in love, but otherwise the idea I had was rather predictable: our two misfit protagonists continue to flee from the Sith, and Revel sort of starts to thaw from the all-consuming misery and hatred that he's been using to forget about his past crimes and failures. I suppose that being around Amber, a Sith who wants to get out of the dark side, would start to jog his memories of Kerria and Bastila and, in general, of what it was like to be good, years ago. Eventually they somehow (yeah, don't ask me how) learn that there's a fledgling new Jedi Order that's being formed by Brianna Kae. In the end they find a ship, and Revel is killed by Set while giving Amber time to escape and go find these new Jedi. Overall not great, but I bet I could've refined it into something decent with time and effort.
There wasn't going to be a "part three", but I did also want to write another story called Dynasties, to which the "Sienan Duology" would sort of be a tie-in. Not too long after TSL, the Exile's companions have disappeared into the Unknown Regions, leaving behind a ragtag band of half-Jedi misfits who have to take care of the known galaxy. I figured their de facto leader would be Mical, and Amber would be one of the supporting characters. And it'd go pretty much how one would expect: this band of novices have to learn how to work together, gather what Jedi lore they can, overcome their weaknesses, and combat Set and his Sith followers as they try to finish off the weakened Republic. So obviously they succeed in the end, because what else are you gonna do, have all the heroes die or something? The new Jedi help the Republic finish off the Sith fleet, and they corner Set himself and kill him on Yavin IV, but his still nameless and personality-less apprentice escapes, his instructions being to forget about this dead empire, go into hiding, and build a new Sith order from the ground up. In short, Dynasties would've been my idea of how the KotOR era's events finish wrapping up for good and everyone basically moves on from the age of Revan; the Republic, Jedi, and Sith all start over again.
Lastly: I did also have my own KotOR 3 fic idea, tenously titled Wind and Flame. Long story short: Revan, the Exile, and their buddies all go off to fight the True Sith, Revan turns evil again, but the Sith are destroyed, and EVERYONE DIES, THE END. Ultimately I decided it wouldn't be worth the trouble of writing, though, so I guess that's a happy ending.
VIII - If You Have to Explain the Joke...: Other KotOR Fanfic That I Did Not Write, and Some Related Thoughts On the Nature of Evil
Another idea of mine was a novelization of The Sith Lords that I kicked around. If I recall correctly, Goodwood helped me work out the reasons it was a bad idea. In no particular order:
- The game is WAY too big and long for a mortal being to encompass in the form of a novel; I'd either have to cut or compress tons of stuff and never be able to decide what parts or in what way (or else break it into twenty-four novels, which I also ruled out).
- The game is riddled with inconsistencies (see Essay IV for only a few); thus a great deal of my effort would be spent in filling in plot holes that another man dug.
- I hated when other people tried to novelize the KotOR games and changed various elements for no good reason and to no improvement. But what would be the point of my own iteration if a large percentage of it was just going to be a faithful representation of the game when you could just play the game?
- Too many bloody characters to keep track of.
- Too many people have done this already, and the new ideas I could bring to the table wouldn't be enough to justify the effort.
That's pretty much the lowdown. And I don't think I ever did come up with any new ideas to justify such a fanfic - so my enthusiasm for it died rather quickly.
For the other one that I'm going to talk about here, it was a similar but different story. It, too, was a story that many, many KotOR enthusiasts have done: tell Revan's backstory from the beginning. As mentioned in Essay V, I got this idea after finishing Luceno's rather excellent Darth Plagueis novel, and it gave me the idea of giving Revan the same sort of treatment; explaining where she came from, how Kreia and Arren Kae and the others trained her, how she became a Jedi Knight, how she led the war, and so on, up till she finds the first Star Map on Dantooine with Malak.
Really, there's only a few things I can tell you about the meat of the plot, as I never wrote a complete outline or more than a few snippets of prose. The first third of the story was to cover Revan's early years as a Jedi, ending with her promotion to knighthood; the second, her time in the Mandalorian Wars; and the third, her expedition into the Unknown Regions and encounter with the True Sith. If I remember right, important secondary characters would include Malak, Kreia, Arren Kae, Jorus Surik (who would later become the Exile), a Jedi dude named Anyar Nion (who would later become Darth Nihilus), and some others. The latter two would have their own subplot. Basically, the content of Essay VI, plus this thing here where Jorus and Anyar were sort of buddies during the war, but had a falling-out shortly before Malachor for some reason.
That's all rather incidental, though. I never put much work into planning this story, except for two things that basically go together: first, my idea of how exactly Revan's contact with the True Sith went, and second, the idea of how I wanted to portray her turn to the dark side.
Apparently the way it turned out in the canon (before it became un-canoned, obviously) was that Revan and Malak went and found the Sith Emperor, and he just bitch-slap-mind-controlled them and sent them back to the Republic to conquer it for him. I was dissatisfied with this concept and in any case could think of no good way to portray it. I was uneasy about the way the story of The Old Republic was shaping up, so I decided to borrow loosely from it without sweating the details. Most importantly, I elected to downgrade the Sith Emperor from being Darth Nihilus and Dark Empire's Palpatine put together on crack to just "Emperor Vitiate", a powerful, wise, and long-lived ruler of the Empire.
So Revan's figured out that the Sith Empire is out there from what she found in Trayus Academy, and (having been shaped through the Mandalorian War into a ruthless pragmatist who flirts with the dark side anyway) has convinced herself that it is through the methods and powers of the Sith themselves that this empire is to be destroyed, thus saving the known galaxy. She shares this with Malak and her other five apprentices, and it is with this goal in mind that they go hunting for the secret empire after Malachor is done with. A critical point is that Revan justifies this to them by saying that they are only using the Sith way as a tool - so the ones they are searching for to destroy, those people are the True Sith.
And by golly, they find those "true" Sith, and the seven are taken in by Vitiate as "guests" in the souped up palace in Dromund Kaas or whatever the place is. What's the trope called? "No, Mister Bond, I expect you to dine." Rather than mind control, Vitiate (in private) plays the tempter to Revan. Hearing of her accomplishments, he's of the opinion that she's rather a smashing Sith Lord already, and he'd be happy to give her the second place of authority in the empire, not to mention the greatest secrets of the Force, if she swears allegiance to him and goes back to conquer the Republic on his behalf (thus saving him a lot of time and trouble). The drama of this final conflict of the story would be that Revan really is tempted by the offer. Ever since she first took charge of things in the war, she's been more and more vehemently telling herself that she answers to no one and only serves justice and the greater good of all civilized beings, no matter what it takes. More than once she tells someone, "I will do anything to save this galaxy," and she means it. But she also loves power. She's been secretly playing the part of the Sith, but you can't really "pretend" to be a Sith for very long. And, of course, she doesn't plan on being Vitiate's number two forever.
Therefore she makes a bet with Vitiate, appealing (so I imagine) to his sense of tradition and honor: they're gonna duel, one on one. If Vitiate wins, Revan agrees to become his herald. If Vitiate loses, she gets to kill him. He accepts. I had what I thought was a pretty cool idea for a location to fight, some Sith burial ground on Dromund Kaas which, thanks to Sith magic, is the one place on the planet where there's daylight and no stormclouds, but you can see them way off round the horizon in every direction and hear the thunder.
Anyway, Revan explains the plan to her apprentices, orders them to not interfere, and heads out. All of them are completely cool with it except for Malak: the favorite, the most headstrong, and most importantly the one person who is still actually a friend to Revan, rather than just a subordinate or other type of asset. At first the fight goes on as planned, but Malak busts out of the Sith palace on the Sith planet and head across the Sith fields to the Sith burial ground and interrupts the Sith-on-Sith duel under the Sith sky. But he's no top dog and gets bitch-slapped by Vitiate, who starts Force-zapping the shit out of him. The Emperor berates Revan, assuming (not unreasonably) that Malak's ambush was part of the plan all along and Revan has violated the agreement, so she loses the bet by default. But Revan won't admit to skullduggery or surrender, so it looks like Malak's going to croak and the fight will go on.
Okay. Now we back up for a second and take a microscope to what I wanted to write here.
Revan's turn to the dark side goes like this. There's the obvious stuff that we knew from the games all along - fighting in the wars, repeatedly taking moral shortcuts for the sake of victory, doubting the completeness of Jedi teachings and becoming interested in other aspects of the Force, coming to think that she must become a Sith "as a sacrifice" and "to prevent a greater evil" (as Kreia put it) - we have all that already. But there's a certain theme that I would have had running through the whole book, starting even before any serious moral dilemmas would've shown up, a core part of Revan's personality which is largely what allows her to become the person we (would've seen) in Burning Fronts, the fully turned, Sidious-esque master of evil.
That personality trait would have been that around the time Revan became a Jedi Knight, she made up her mind to own every decision she makes, never blame anyone else, and never, ever make excuses to herself or to anyone. She makes mistakes, of course. And certainly she rationalizes her decisions during the war and beyond, justifies the destruction of Malachor and the use of soldiers and Jedi and innocent people as pawns, those evil acts and all the rest - but she never says or thinks anything along the lines of "I had no choice, this happened to me", nothing to imply or suggest that she isn't the master of her own destiny. She has feelings and passions, but she takes the Jedi Code seriously: "There is no passion, there is serenity," meaning that passions do not control her (is that really so hard to understand, fanboys?). She trains herself to the point of such a heightened self-possession that every decision she makes is "cold"; she simply looks at her options and decides what's important to her.
So every step that takes her further into the darkness is like that. Not driven by fear or despair. Her fall is not a tragedy like Anakin Skywalker's is supposed to be - not the same kind, certainly. These are the acts of a will that, being unfettered by the passions, has chosen to go a step further and cast off the "fetters" of morality itself. In the end, "I will do anything to save this galaxy" becomes "I will do anything to rule it." As the reader is well aware by now, I have always categorically rejected the idea of Revan as this made-up, sugarcoated version of the ubermensch, a perfect human who has gone "beyond good and evil" and thus arrived at a state of inner spiritual bliss, who can master the light and dark sides of the Force, who can justify even the most heinous crimes with some fictitious, utilitarian "greater good," and worst of all who warps the narrative and the universe in an attempt to get me to agree with her psychotic ravings. A "real" ubermensch would be like this Revan of mine, or like Palpatine, after whom she is patterned: no sort of hero, as the fanfic wankers would make her out to be, but a scourge upon all humanity, a free soul who freely chooses evil.
I don't know if any of them are reading or will ever read these essays, but I know for a fact that there is a class of people who would roll their eyes with irritation at the monotonous frequency with which I insist upon this point of absolute morality, and my wholesale rejection of what they mean by the phrase "gray morality." They would probably at least be tempted to call my views and ideas childish, simplistic, unsophisticated, and (most damningly) unrealistic. "Real people aren't this way, super-heroes and super-villains," they might say. "Any given man or woman is both good and evil. You cannot so starkly define anybody as simply one or the other. How can you say that the destruction of Malachor is totally unjustifiable? How can you say that Revan was really any worse than the Jedi Council and their loyalists? Real people are not simple but complex. Nobody actually chooses to reject good and embrace evil. That is why the original Star Wars movies are escapist fantasies for children and for the nostalgic-minded, while the story of The Sith Lords is mature because it acknowledges the absolute ambiguity of morality."
Let me first disclaim a disclaimer, namely that I'm not arguing against the use of ambiguous situations and dilemmas, putting characters in positions where there's no completely right answer and they don't know what they should do. Real life is full of such things. But I really have grown to loath with a passion the elitist scorn which modern western thought has for what it calls by such cornily made-up and laughably cantankerous terms as "binary," "dualistic," and my personal favorite, "black and white." These faux-do-gooding morality reformers have poisoned thought and life with their mumbling, bloated, masturbatory delusions of enlightenment and sophistication; they have risen up in rebellion against the black and white of peoples and nations and stained the whole world gray. The truth is that "black and white morality" does not make a work of fiction childish or unsophisticated for the simple fact that it does not make real life childish or unsophisticated. The whole reason it's compelling to read a story where a moral situation is ambiguous is because you know what the moral absolute is, but you don't know where it is, so you're looking for it along with the characters. On a related note, nobody actually believes that morality is not black and white, but a lot of people disagree on what is in the black and what is in the white. I suppose that there may be a few people on the planet who actually do believe that there is no objective morality or truth at all. I also suppose that they are all sitting straightjacketed in padded rooms, drooling on themselves. But to bring us back in the direction of how I would have written Revan, we'll focus on the idea of a person who deliberately chooses evil.
There's a certain person whose writings on the internet I sometimes read. In this essay I will not name her, link to her, or talk about her except in paraphrase and vaguery because she may very well be insane. But she is a Christian, and she has some kind of theological-psychological theory that's similar to what I've been rambling about. She says that there are people alive in this world who make themselves like demons; people who consciously and deliberately have chosen to purge themselves of faith, hope, and love, whose actions are driven only by fear, hatred, and envy, and who go about bringing out the worst in other people. There's a lot more to this person's theory and I don't know if the whole thing is true or not. But the part of it that struck me as relevant to this essay was the idea of a person literally choosing to purge themself of love.
Because I think that this concept sits in the very center of how the dark side of the Force is best portrayed - especially if we're talking about a character like Revan or Palpatine, a second-to-no-one villain. We saw a pretty effective example of this idea of purging - or of something very close to it - in Episode VII. Kylo Ren's whole character arc throughout the film - his "test," as Snoke puts it - is that he has to kill his father. But the reason is not simply because Han Solo is helping the Resistance; the reason is that Kylo must personally and deliberately render his own redemption impossible. Only an act as heinous and irrevocable as the rejection of the love of his family by patricide is enough to enable him to fully embrace the dark side. Until he does so, he is vulnerable to that "call from the light." Accordingly, I don't understand how some people interpret the pivotal scene as Kylo faking his inner conflict in order to string Han along before going "Just kidding!" and stabbing him. That interpretation takes all the drama out of the scene. In reality he genuinely is wrestling with himself until the very last second; he really did almost return from the dark side.
So the way I was going to write the climax of this fan fic was going to be a similar sort of "purging" moment. By the time of the final duel Revan is very nearly an outright villain, but there remains one little bit of good left in her, namely her friendship with Malak, and the final act which completes her descent is the conscious choice to break that friendship. She throws her lightsaber at Vitiate's feet and kneels. Up to this point, Revan and Malak have both done awful things and been corrupted by the dark side, but there still remains this one positive, solid virtue between the two of them, simply in the fact that they still actually care about each other, as people, and not as means to other ends like power or prestige or strength. But in this moment of confrontation, Revan decides to weigh that last good thing in herself against her desire for power, and the last good thing loses. Like Kylo Ren, she realizes that she cannot master the dark side as long as there still remains anyone who she truly loves or cares about. Her surrender to the Sith Emperor is sufficient; it says, "I will serve you. He means nothing to me."
But Vitiate's in a good mood. He accept's Revan's surrender of the wager, and on a whim he spares Malak's life so she can have an apprentice of her own. Eventually Malak submits, but from that moment forward, he and Revan will only fear, hate, or envy one other. Perhaps there will also be a vague sort of "respect," but that is all. Revan's other apprentices are initiated as Sith and tasked with converting their troops to the dark side; and while that happens Revan and Malak set out in search of the Star Forge. They find the first Star Map on Dantooine, where Malak sort-of-indirectly points out that he and Revan could run back to the Jedi, who don't know how far they've fallen, but if they continue there will be no turning back, only to realize that they passed the point of no return already. Revan makes no secret that she plans to turn on Vitiate when the time is right: "We are the true Sith now."
Yes, I did just write another bigass essay where I talked some about fan fiction and a lot about ethics. Again, the whole reason fiction is worthwhile is because we can use it to talk about real-life concepts like this - both by literally talking about it, as I keep doing here, but also by just doing it by writing it into something. Of course, there are many who refuse and say, "No, stop bringing all your thought into this! It's just a book! It's just a movie! It's just a story! I just want to be entertained!", as if fiction's good for nothing except killing time. Honestly, though, it's not wrong to not be a faux-highbrow-sorta-intellectual-smartass about fiction like I am. But somebody's got to go beyond being entertained and do the thinking stuff. And if you don't like that I'm one person doing that, well, I never said you have to come here, did I? -MPK, Free Man 18:08, August 28, 2016 (UTC)
Appendix A: Running List of Plot Holes in Knights of the Old Republic II
- Goto wants to hire you to help him save the Republic. So he sends legions of bounty hunters after you rather than, say, sending messengers of some kind.
- Goto's bounty insists on capturing you alive... which is why almost nobody hunting for you even tries to take you alive.
- Coorta and his cronies on Peragus want to capture you and deliver you to Goto. The HK-50 droid also wants to capture you and deliver you to Goto. Due to its indiscriminate bloodthirstiness, the HK-50 droid insists on needlessly complicating its own plan in order to kill Coorta and his cronies rather than just straight-forwardly cooperating with them in order to deliver you to Goto.
- Goto (like everyone in the game) is angry at you for your involvement in the destruction of Peragus. He conveniently ignores the fact that at least half of the mayhem on the Harbinger and at Peragus would never have happened if not for his own HK-50 droid.
- Goto goes to a lot of trouble to finally capture you so he can hire you to help you protect the Republic. Once he's finally done the capturing part, he apparently changes his mind and intends to imprison you indefinitely, regardless of your actions up to that point.
- Goto's mission in life is to protect and rebuild the Republic. So at the very end of the game on Malachor, when the Remote is about to destroy the planet and the Sith, which are obviously the biggest threat to the Republic, Goto decides to try and save them.
IX - About the AU Fanfic That I Didn't Write: Because the Movies Weren't Good Enough, Apparently
It strikes me as a bit funny, in a very redundant and hind-sighted kind of way, that fan fiction circles have this subgenre called "alternate universe" (AU for short) to indicate stories that diverge from the normal canon timeline. My first reason is that all fiction is "alternate universe", and my second is that all fan fiction is too, regardless of how hugely or how tinily a given story diverges from the "real" version of galactic history. You know, if I was gonna get back into writing this stuff again, and especially if I released it on other sites like fanfiction.net, I'd just classify all of my works as AU by default. It'd be technically true, but more importantly it would (hopefully) disarm the unwitting reader so that, for instance, they would read KotOR: Burning Fronts and not know that the good guys have to lose in order to avoid precluding the events of the original game. A cheap trick, but it might be worth it if it saved my plots from being foregone conclusions.
But on a few rainy days a couple of years ago, I did come up with a basic outline for a series of my own which would indeed fit the conventional AU definition (and luckily for us today, it had nothing to do with KotOR). I was prompted by a private volcanic eruption of nerd-rage. You see, here at SWFanon there once was a dude named Thenorthernman, who wrote a series of articles telling a story which starts with the dark side ending of The Force Unleashed, where Starkiller kills Darth Vader, only to take his place in another cyborg suit, and goes on from there. And this guy completely screwed it up. He put so much bloody effort into this article - just look at it, it's huge - but the sum of it all is that Vader's death and the premature destruction of the Rebel Alliance basically change nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. The author kept almost everything that Vader did that was in the EU at that point and just put Starkiller in Vader's place: the time he gets ambushed by Darth Maul's clone, that Jedi called the Dark Woman, that kid named Tao, the basic plot of Shadows of the Empire, everything. He even kept Force Unleashed 2 with its dark side ending, just swapping out the clones of Starkiller with clones of Anakin Skywalker. In this he followed the precedent set by the TFU games' "bonus dark side missions", in which there's unexplicably still a Rebel Alliance, the Death Star Plans still get stolen, and the battles of Yavin, Hoth, and Endor all still happen, though each and all in a slightly altered manner in which things are simplified by having Starkiller or the apprentice just kill everyone. So as Thenorthernman had it, Luke is killed, Leia is killed, Starkiller is killed, Palpatine is killed, and Anakin's clone takes over the galaxy, because Waru knows if there's one way to convince the entire Imperial ruling bureacracy that you've got the chops to rule the whole galaxy, the "appear out of nowhere and assassinate the current Emperor" strategy is your best bet. Political intrigue at its finest.
So because as usual I had nothing better to do, I decided that I wanted to come up with an AU idea, taking the exact same premise (dark side endings of both TFU games and roll with it) and actually make it worth reading by having changes to the timeline actually result in timeline changes. The first thing I wrote were some scribbles on what state the galaxy would be in, what changes I'd be starting out with from the get-go. So I started out with Rahm Kota, the three founders of the rebellion, Juno Eclipse, and Princess Leia all being dead (the latter summarily executed after her father being found out as a traitor). But I wanted there to still be a big war, so in the place of the Rebel Alliance I decided that a circle of high-ranking oddball Imperials led by a certain Moff Kalast would start a Neo-Confederacy (this was somewhat ironic, considering a certain group of people's fanon which I treated with such disdain in the past). With that and some other world-building notes, I banged out an outline for a story arc consisting of somewhere between four and a half and five and a half novel-length stories, meant to serve as a legitimate "alternative timeline" taking the place of the Original Trilogy and perhaps a bit of the post-RotJ EU.
I won't summarize the whole thing here. That's what the Rebus File is for, so instead I'll explain why I never wrote this series (aside from my chronic laziness). I'm forced to conclude that it has to do with the necessary requirements and pitfalls of this subgenre, in which one is consciously trying to replace a canon chunk of history. There's a very precise balance that needs to be struck. You want it to be similar to that from which it is alternate, but you have to keep it distinct enough that it's still worth writing as a unique literary entity. It musn't hit all the same notes, feature all the same themes, express everything in the same way. And I came to realize that the story that I envisioned simply didn't distinguish itself enough, especially earlier on. The first book was too obviously a retreading of Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, with Starkiller basically going through the same journey under superficially different circumstances. The second book was also a replacement for The Force Unleashed 2 - by no means a carbon copy like Thenorthernman's stuff, but still just not enough different to be worth bothering with. Not only that, its very premise shot itself in the foot ("Jedi clones" can be done well, but it very rarely is), as did its complete downer ending (exactly as in the game's bad ending, our protagonist is killed by the last, perfected evil clone). So it's not until book three that my outline starts to actually look like a story that I myself came up with; it also devolves from being an outline into a scattered list of ideas that I wanted to somehow fit into the remaining books. And even in those main ideas, there was so little of my own mind in them. The main hero of the time remained Luke Skywalker, his quest to defeat the Empire remained essentially the same, and all the associated conflicts and themes were shaping up to be just second-rate copies of the ones that we had all along in the movies. And that's all that would have been produced if by some half-miracle I had ever managed to crank out those five-or-six-odd books, that's what they would have added up to.
The moral of the story is that you should never even bother with anything. That way you won't write anything bad. For that insight, can I get a thunderous applause or can I get an uproarious one?
Seriously, though, ask yourself if applicable: What's the point of making "your own versions" of the movies, or whatever the case may be? How much are you doing something new and interesting, and how much are you just aping those movies or whatever because you don't want to come up with your own themes and characters and plots? Because I didn't ask myself that early on when I ought to have done so. But in closing, an emphasizizing disclaimer: I'm not saying that as a jab at Brandon and his Alternate Star Wars Saga; I barely read any of it except the first few chapters of the latest version of The Chosen One , and I really liked it. So yeah. -MPK, Free Man 22:02, September 4, 2016 (UTC)
X - Across Fresher Waters: The Legends of the Jedi Series
It was a relief when I first made up my mind to start the Legends of the Jedi series, and it is a relief for me to talk about it now for the same reason: because, believe it or not, even I can get sick of thinking about KotOR.
One opportunity that I think the old EU virtually always missed was filling in the blank periods of pre-movies galactic history. When it did remember that there were centuries or even millennia that had been left blank, it almost always filled them in with just another Jedi-Sith conflict. And Jedi-Sith conflicts are fine, but I don't think it serves the richness of this fictional universe as a whole if we seriously are going to have eighty percent of its history consist of and turn on nothing else. I don't think even George Lucas had that in mind when he first came up with the Sith.
So I decided that I wanted to step into one of these primarily blank periods, where there would be more than enough room to run wild in. The idea, as I first pitched it to myself, went as follows:
- A series of short stories (or novellas, as they seem to repeatedly turn into) depicting the days of the ancient Jedi in the many centuries before and leading up to the Hundred-Year Darkness in 7,003 BBY.
- Most of the stories are to be loosely connected, only perhaps occasionally sharing the same characters or locations.
- The exact or approximate dates of the events in any story are not to be alluded to in most cases.
- They are to depict a Jedi Order in some ways much more free and yet more structured than in other interpretations, showing different views of the Force (especially the dark side) and of the role of a Jedi Knight in the galaxy.
The last of those points was probably the most important. As I think I've alluded to before, it's really a source of irritation for me that Star Wars works that take place thousands of years apart portray a Jedi Order that barely ever changes in its philosophy, hierarchy, teachings, or practices. And if one knows anything at all about history, then one knows how unrealistic and uninteresting that all is. I banged out a sizable text file (see the Rebus File) of world-building, in which I formulated some core aspects of ancient Jedi stuff, which I would go on to feature in the course of the series.
The other most important aspect was the bit about length and format. An unexpected bit of inspiration came from August and Cynthia Hahn's Living Force stories about Darrus Jeht. I found them impressively exciting and effective despite their short length. The major appeal of it for me as an author was the hopes that each Legends of the Jedi installment would be short and unrelated to the others (except for the general theme of being about the ancient Jedi Order), and thus I'd be able to crank out each story relatively quickly, without having to spend a lot of time and energy on worrying about continuity and preparation (I had similar hopes when kicking around the idea of the Jedi Academy Chronicles that I mentioned back in Essay I). But as I've found, I apparently can't keep a story short to save my life.
I suppose that I should say something about the three stories in this series that I actually did finish. It is a bit tiresome to look back on the first two side-by-side. Way too many of my story ideas banked on people turning to the dark side, fighting against temptation to the dark side, or otherwise being traumatized by it - the Legends of the Jedi were in danger of severe oversaturation with this one motif, when the actual premise was supposed to allow me to explore so many other aspects of Jedi-ness unhindered. In hindsight I think Burning Bright isn't bad, but it's a bit too depressing for my tastes - the hero falls and everything goes to hell. By my own estimation The Beast of Rutan is in every single respect a superior story. I'm most proud of that one because I sort of kinda wrote a horror story without realizing it until later. And for some reason I'm fond of the protagonist, Morgent Kelbus - a good man who manages to stay good even after suffering great losses. Such grave subject matter as those two stories had, though - when I wrote Your Weapon, Your Life, I was deliberately trying to defy them and take a breath of fresh air from them. A young Jedi dope goes on a mission with his master and learns an unexpected lesson.
While I'm at it, I'd like to mention a couple of my story ideas which I particularly liked and which I think would still hold some potential. One was called Archway, and it was about the Rakatan temple on Dantooine that holds one of the Star Maps. Starting with Malak's throwaway line that "the ancient Jedi sealed this archway," I started wondering what exactly had happened with these ancient Jedi. I came up with it as the site of a skirmish, as part of the First Great Schism, between two parties of Jedi over the place, as both sides know an ancient source of mysterious power when they see one. I wanted to use this story and others to flesh out the conflict between the Jedi and the Lettow. I particularly saw in it an opportunity for some moral ambiguity (actual ambiguity, not the crap that KotOR 2 supposedly offered us), with many noble and even heroic figures being on both sides of the conflict, a group of "dark-siders" who are less malicious and villainous than the Sith, and other such things.
Another idea, entitled Chosen, was sort of a successor to The Beast of Rutan in that it also was to be told in first-person and deal with some creepy shit. Basically, the narrator is a simple man named Calder, living in a village on a remote planet. And life's going basically normal until these two weird offworlders show up, asking for the able men of the village to form into a militia under their command for a vaguely-defined expedition that must succeed, or else all of them are doomed. So Calder joins up with them and they go out into the wilderness, eventually clashing with some violent cult that worships an evil force that has awakened on the planet, and which controls the cult primarily through a pack of derriphans. The party's quest to destroy this enemy is complicated by misgivings among the various militiamen, many of whom soon come to regret putting their lives on the line because of the word of two doomsday-prophet weirdoes from space. I also had this idea that of the two Jedi, only the Jedi Master is able to speak the villagers' language (though he says as little as possible), and his apprentice has to resort to some basic hand signals. Though the expedition meets disaster, Calder remains loyal to the end, but he isn't the hero, and it is the second Jedi who goes on to defeat the source of the evil, which is an immobile subterranean dark side abomination which Calder (and thus the reader) never quite sees directly. The survivors limp back to the village, the day saved. Calder will never be the man he used to be and he still barely understands what he has seen and heard, but is comforted by the conviction that he was right to trust the Jedi and they were fighting to protect his home. The end.
Lastly of those I will mention here, there was to be a sequel to The Beast of Rutan entitled Even the Stars. The former story ends on a sort-of-ominous twist where we're reading Morgent Kelbus' journal, and after the trying and traumatizing events of the story he mentions that he's going to spend some time chilling out in the company of his master, Xendor - the guy who goes on to lead the Dark Jedi faction in the First Great Schism. I wanted to follow up on this by fleshing out the master-apprentice relationship between Xendor and Kelbus, and gradually showing the danger that the latter man is in. It starts with innocent discussions and debates on life and Jedi philosophy, and eventually Kelbus starts encountering clue after clue about what Xendor is plotting with his Legions of Lettow, and he has to decide which side he will stand on.
XI: Bitter, Vicious, Relentless Mockery Is the Best Medicine - On Myself as a Critic of Mary Sues, Jedi Droids, Juveniles, and Bad Stories, and Doing the Technicolor Yawn
I'm probably going to get banned or something for this, but I don't care. IT'S A DROID, YOU DOLT. [...] Some droids are built to have sadistic personalities, but a mass-produced bucket of bolts can't just go "CIS_Command close port" or something and pretend to be Prince Xizor. And everything this guy makes is crap, from renaming vehicles he finds in popular videogames to chopping a Providence and a Recusant in half with Paint and sticking them together. He doesn't even know what a railgun is! You can call me a troll if you want to but I still think this guy is wasting server space.
—A Sage and Sophisticated Man
MPK: “I almost wish that the clans were still around; there would be something bad on this wiki for me to fight against. Sadly, however, NKSCF doesn't seem to be very active anymore, Unit 8311 is working on the Cruentusian War instead of his namesake character, Swerto is nowhere to be found, and as mentioned above, the clans are long gone...”
―An Exchange That Took Place Some Years Ago Between Two Men Who Went By Acronyms[src]
NKSCF: “Name the time and place MPK, and let's end this.”
The way it used to be was that I wrote my fanon, and on the side I produced unsolicited essays about things written by other people. I'm not sure exactly how, but it's the latter that became my schtick, and for whatever reason it stuck when the crust was thin and when it was thick. Even after the Dark Order series withered and died, the Sienan Duology tanked, the TSL novel and the KotOR 3 and Darth Revan all went off into space, the Starkiller blew up, and the Legends of the Jedi were left untold; against the odds, it stuck through all that and to the present day.
In looking back on that part of my "career" here, I won't go in great detail or tremendous length if I can help it - the highlights, then. There were a few "classic" bad stories and characters with whose authors I seemed locked in endless conflict (because the internet does weird things to time, as we all know). We had Nathaniel Kenobi Solo (Clan Fett!): once a Featured Article, the archetypal Gary Sue self-insert character of this wiki, fit to be a mascot in many respects. And who could forget Darth Tyler, the B1 Battle Droid who became a Sith Lord, and his partner in crime Troyb, the Neimodian who somehow built a Second Confederacy that took over the galaxy or some shit? Or Unit 8311, the Super Battle Droid who became the super-duper crime lord of the galaxy, better than the Hutt Cartel and Tyber Zann combined? Those last three were tenacious ones, if I recall them right. Such authors wrote a lot and fought very hard to get their stuff on the Featured Article track, to take the wind out of my castigations, or at the very least to ignore them, and by golly I fought them back, both on my user subpages and in my official capacities as Decreton Lord, Seer, and High Priest (incidentally, I was lied to - they never did give me a biretta).
I'm guessing it's all that stuff, arguing with these people on and off for such a long time, that really got me into my niche here. And it really was a niche that nobody else fit into, because nobody else did what I did in the way that I did it, or at such length as I did. On IRC I was routinely called such things as "SWF's most notorious critic." I personally should think that Ataru was a more prolific reviewer than me. I perhaps outstripped him in sheer number of words, but I never had the sort of professionalism that he did - rating the narrative, rating the concept, staying within a reasonable size, balancing himself, in short. All I did was fire off my mind like a pistol until it was empty.
And I don't employ that simile lightly. Emphasis mine:
Even as my maturity progressed and I found some of my articles to be ridiculous or just plain stupid, I still loved the site. My flagship article Darth Tyler never becoming Featured Article bothered me, but not really that much. It was the overtaking of this site by people who thought their stories should take precedent over other's, and that only they could decide which articles were great. There were so many attempts to create special elites that could pass FAs and GAs, etc., and only they could crush legitimate community groups, like the clans. The clans did absolutely nothing wrong. It was just a damned community organization. But that's not my point. This site was no longer my escape from the world. My articles were ridiculed and attacked, all under the supposed disguise of 'constructive criticism,' which people loved to throw around when a writer disagreed with their views on diction or concept. Either you agreed with their viewpoint on how they think your article should be written or construced, or you're an immature seven year old with anger management issues and can't take criticism. Even if your viewpoint was legitimate, they'd find some way to form a special group that could easily crush whatever you had formed or written.
People, at least people of afew years ago, know of my articles, know of its resulting fueds and accusations. To these critics I give you the Trudeau Salute. Imagination or creativitly need not be criticized, since you are comparing ones imagination to another, something that is, in regards to your understanding or beliefs, unfair.
I will not exaggerate my own importance by claiming full credit for these feelings of disillusionment, be they Tyler's, Troyb's, or anyone else's. But I have more than a mere hunch that I contributed a lot, perhaps more so than any other one person. At any rate, when it comes to Tyler, I know for a fact that nobody so loudly and proudly despised his work as I did. So it's weird to still be here years later and, for the first time ever, actually think about and reconsider how I acted back then. Not that I'm expecting any of them to come back and read this. I'm basically just thinking out loud, as usual.
For whatever it's worth, I'm not proud of all the reviews or essays I ever wrote here, be they the ones from the early days that I did because I wanted to, or the ones much later, which I did because a badge next to my name said I had to write them (incidentally, I think that accepting those badges, entangling myself in the bureaucracy that ran this site, obligating myself to use my creative criticism according to a timetable, and giving people the impression that I seriously cared about community activity and togetherness at that time when I very much did not, was probably the worst mistake I ever made here - alongside not writing my own stories). I've criticized the work of a lot of people, many more than "the classics" mentioned above, and most of them I can't remember. Not a few of them certainly deserved it, mostly because they were, so to speak, "starships passing in the night" - people like Station7 with Star Wars: The Real Empire or Corusant with his weird-ass stuff, people who arguably just dropped by to take a dump and then moved on with their lives. But the ones like NKSCF, Tyler, and 8311, the guys who stuck it out for months or even years? Who were really invested, not just in their own (shitty) work, but in the community itself because, for lack of a better expression, they believed in it? Those people, I'm not so sure they deserved everything they got from me. I mean, such merciless criticism as I gave out isn't exactly the best way to encourage an aspiring young writer to become better. Moreover, one could argue that perhaps, when it came to those people with whom I shared this community, I had a special duty to go easier on them than on the outsiders who I would later review. That Jedi droid was indefensibly stupid, and so was the droid crime lord, and this Mary Sue and that Mary Sue and yadda yadda yadda - but nothing in any of those bad stories was an actual affront to common human decency like you'd find in abundance on a casual visit to fanfiction.net. These were not the writings of perverts and psychopaths.
In any case, the last purpose of this essay is to damn my long-departed opponents and victims with a faint apology, though I know it's all too little too late: I cannot and will never apologize to any of them for my real criticisms, that is, for the actual reasons that I gave for why their works were bad, because I'm confident that most of my points were and still are legitimate and true. Nor do I apologize, in principle, for using a sharp tongue in articulating these criticisms (if I wasn't allowed to use wit, even biting wit, I might literally die). BUT if at any number of points I was more of an angry asshole than I needed to be, especially if it didn't even make what I said any funnier, then for all those times, and also (while I'm at it) for my various and sundry forms of petty, childish, and foolish misbehaviors on this site (most of which I cannot remember and do not want to remember, though I know they happened), for all of that I do apologize.
I'm not calling you stupid, I'm calling the thing you wrote stupid. In fact, I think that's how it is for bad writers of bad fanfic, even the worst of them. Because somebody on fanfiction.net wrote Prophet, Thing of Evil, and it was bad, monumentally atrocious, but it wasn't bad because the author was stupid. It was bad because the author was degenerate, perverted, and morally corrupt. If he was stupid, then his problem is really that he was not nearly stupid enough, because greater stupidity might have saved the story from ever being written. So it is with many, many other literary atrocities. And compared to them, even the worst of SWFanon was pretty small fry. -MPK, Free Man 16:53, September 29, 2016 (UTC)
Yeah, well, if I'm mean to you, it's because I care.
XII: Those Who Can't, Satirize - My "Dabbling" in Trollfic and Satire
A few of the people from here know that I sort of had an obsession with the phenomenon of the "trollfic", or the fan fiction deliberately written to be terrible; and with the phenomenon of the fan fiction which, intentionally or not, turns out to be so bad that it somehow becomes a source of entertainment, like a B-Movie. I experienced and enjoyed several such works, particularly through the YouTube phenomenon of the "dramatic reading". A favorite of mine was a certain Harry Potter fic, evidently written by a mentally disturbed teenaged girl, who re-imagined half of the characters as members of the degenerate teenage "gothic" "culture" and compounded the terribility with egregiously bad spelling and a laughably absurd and implausible plot. On YouTube I found a series in which it was read by three Scottish guys, which I found almost endlessly amusing.
I actually made my own dramatic reading once. It was of Star Wars: The Real Empire, written by one of our own, the right honorable Station7. I put a lot of effort into that project, successfully browbeating my older brother into doing the reading with me, and then adding music and sound effects in mimicry of the actual Star Wars audiobooks. Sadly it was taken off of Youtube (presumably over music copyright or other such tyrranical baloney), and my original recordings have mysteriously vanished.
Still, my dedication to the memorialization of stylistic suckage did not die easy, and I eventually decided to try my hand at producing some myself. I reasoned that since bad fanfic would not be encumbered by traditional rules of spelling and grammar quality, logic, or intelligibility, it would be easier and faster to produce than my normal writing projects. Unfortunately, I was correct.
By this point the reader will not be shocked to hear that my such projects had to do with Knights of the Old Republic. It was to be a "novelization" of the first KotOR game. Entitled A Sucker's Ideas, it told the tale of "Jaden Smith", a juvenile-minded Dark-Side-Male Revan on PCP with mightily atrocious grammar and spelling. It was sort of overly derivative of the bad fics that I had been reading at the time, and though I had some fun writing it, I didn't finish it.
My passion lived on, though, and was rekindled by the story of a book called Atlanta Nights, "a collaborative novel created in 2004 by a group of science fiction and fantasy authors, with the express purpose of producing an unpublishably bad piece of work, so as to test whether publishing firm PublishAmerica would still accept it." I therefore devised "the Alan Parsons Project", which was to be a KotOR 2 trollfic collaboratively produced with the help of my colleagues here at SWFanon. Several of them expressed interest in contributing, but they had lives, so ultimately the project failed.
Yet some years later the concept of my very first trollfic boiled back up to the surface of my mind, and so I decided to try it again, this time with some more forethought, finesse, and (I hoped) originality. I started with devising a new name for our "hero" and with it a suitably brazen and clunky title, THE REVAN: Jaden Amnesia. Then I got to work, painting a portrait of the most psychotic, despicable, over-the-top hoo-rah action antihero-smuggler-anarchist-rebel Revan I could possibly imagine. Though the story never became a smash hit as I wanted it to, I had a lot of fun writing it. It was a way to blow off steam and produce words when I was too tired or not in the mood for my more serious projects. It also provided me some opportunity to take jabs at the parts of KotOR and its fandom (and of Star Wars in general) that I found irritating, or at any rate to make fun of it all in general.
But here's the thing. I finished it. AND IT WAS SIXTY CHAPTERS AND A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS LONG. It was my master work of Star Wars satire and silliness. I put a crapton more time and effort into it than I ever initially intended to, and by the time I got to the end there was only a small couple of things that I felt like going back and revising. I've yet to get around to that, though, and in the meantime the saga of Jaden Amnesia is not to be found on teh internetz. I have it intact, but at some point - during a fit of depression, I believe - I took it off of fanfiction.net. I think my main motivation was a comic sense of shame, that I've thought of or started so many novel-length fanfics over the past... the past approximate ten years, yet this one was the magnum opus that I actually got to the end of.
I suppose I may re-upload it in full in the future. Lately, though, I haven't been arsed.
I suppose I should mention that I'm also sitting on an outline, produced back in the day, for a sequel called Jaden Amnesia: THE DARK REVANGE. Whereas the first one was a "novelization" of KotOR 1, my plan was for this story to be a loose retelling of somebody else's fanfic, namely a certain mod for KotOR called Brotherhood of Shadow: Solomon's Revenge. This mod added a huge sidequest to the game, new (temporary) party members with actual voice acting, and a considerable number of new locations and items. I chose this as the starting point for the Jaden Amnesia sequel mostly because I played the mod and was vastly underimpressed with its story, so I figured I'd massively take the piss out of it. My defense against the inevitable charge of plagiarism would be that if I can make fan fiction based on fiction, then there's no reason I shouldn't be able to make a fan fiction based on fan fiction, especially for purposes of satire. It's only plagiarism if you claim that what you're writing is your own original idea - which would be a very strange claim indeed for a fan fiction writer to make.
And this is a great tragedy, but I haven't the time or the inclination to go into detail on Brotherhood of Shadow; you'll just have to take my word for it unless you've played it yourself. It was unquestionably a great technical achievement in terms of what could be done with a mod for this game, but the story itself was tedious, rambling, loaded with characters that it failed to convince me to care about, and as bloated with delusions of brilliance and profundity as any fanfic I've ever read. That's the long and the short of it.
Good time to reel it back in. My outline (Waru knows I haven't got enough of those) says that now I'm supposed to talk about "Why I kept being drawn to this kind of project, how my understanding of such satire, its purpose, and its methods have evolved" - but screw that shit. At any rate, screw the great and wise ordering of everything. At the time of writing it's a late Sunday night, so I shall simply discuss it as I see fit and then hold my peace. As I finish my Onyx Black Ale.
The Jaden Amnesia project was the most important to me, so he got the most effort, therefore I'll discuss him primarily. As I said, he was the "once more with feeling" of A Sucker's Ideas. I toned down the bad spelling so it wouldn't be near-unintelligible (see the Rebus File). And as I went on with the story, I started getting just a little bit more serious with it despite myself. You see, Jaden Amnesia's character consists of just two ingredients, amplified by glitterstim oversaturation: Awesomeness and Angst. For most of the story we had more of the former than the latter - so he shoots, slashes, robs, brutalizes, and blasts his way through everyone and everything for chapter after chapter, impeccably immune to the opinions of others. And on the side he had some canned concern about what Bastila thinks of him, because I wrote a very implausible and hackneyed romance between them, where she's all like, "Oh Jaden, I bally well think I sorta loik yew, but it's a bit rummy pawssible there's a flicker of the buggering dark side in yew" - and meanwhile Jaden's robbing and murdering at least a dozen people every single chapter.
But somewhere around the home stretch of the fic - the Leviathan and afterwards, I think - there was this weird existential/fatalistic thread running through everything that kept cropping up. Jaden started to gain some awareness of his own mortality, of the vacuousness of his bloodthirsty hedonism, and the repetitive nature of the story he was in. I was basically writing a fictional character who was going crazy as he started to squish up against the walls of the pages he was written on. At times I felt I was taking the whole project far too seriously, but the thing I ended up producing was something... odd that I don't think I could replicate. So I'm at least keeping it around, though it's no longer online in full.
Really, you'd get a much better idea of the whole shebang by reading the leaves over in the Rebus File than this half-assed reflection here.
As the reader may be able to come to suspect after much painstakingly careful analysis, one of my problems is that I can get just a wee bit insecure about what I'm writing - whether I'm putting too much effort into it, whether my energy ought to be invested somewhere else, and other such rot. I've been able to see in hindsight that the solution is to just use your brain, use your common sense once, and then go with what that tells you. Angst is for your characters, not your real life self. So instead of angsting about your life's shit being imbalanced, just balance it out and move on with it.
XIII - Looking Forward: In Big Self-Conscious Quote Marks, "I'm Not Writing Any More Fan Fiction"
More pop psychology: the writer writes to create a world he can control and manipulate because he finds himself stymied by what the rest of you so blithely call 'reality.' Yes, possibly.
—Arthur Phillips, The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel
Back in August, my dear, dashing, and distinguished colleague (if I may describe her as such) Firedance said this to me in the chat thing: "Savage and I have placed bets on the likelihood of you actually returning to fan fiction writing. We agree that if you didn't have some inkling of desire to write again, you wouldn't go to all the effort of denying any interest in doing so."
Well, okay, plot twist: the sort-of-really-obvious-thing turns out to actually be true. I did start writing a fanfic at the same time as some of these essays, without telling anyone. Once again I got a new itch of an idea in my head, so I decided to try scratching it this time. I told myself, "Another fanfic novel, huh? Fine. Do it this time. Don't think so damn much, just blaze through it, at least through the first draft, get to the ending just to prove you can. Get it out of your system and hope that it'll be kinda good." So I started it. The rest of my life keeps interrupting it, but I also keep getting back to it, against all odds.
You know, I've told myself several times over the years that I was done with fan fiction, "for good this time." And the most compelling reason I ever gave myself was this.
Sometimes, I look forward instead of looking back. In so doing, I deduce that someday I will go to rest with my fathers, and when that happens there is a chance that my writings will survive. And if they survive, there is a chance that they will be found. I then must ask myself the question, "Out of all the things I have written or want to write, which ones would I most like to have found, and which least?" Each time I have to admit that of all the story ideas that I would most want to survive, my fan fiction ones are not at the top of the list.
And yet I'm back again. As far as I know, I had no intention whatsoever of starting a fanfic when I reappeared on this site at the dawn of this year. I sincerely believed that I was just here to do my retrospective essays here, and to occasionally hang around with whoever might be left in the chat room. As for why I deliberately refrained from telling anyone about this project, I suppose it was because I wasn't sure it was gonna stick this time. For some damn reason I have some kind of a "reputation" around here: I was our "most notorious critic" who was supposedly also a good writer when he felt like bothering to write (by our standards here, anyway). So despite the abject tininess of this community, I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up that I was finally going to actually write something again, only to turn around a week later and say, "Actually, I was just bored. I'm not really gonna bother finishing this, it'll just sit in the Rebus File with all the others." That may sound silly, but it is what it is.
I guess I'll tell you what the fic actually is. It's entirely my own fault, because back in essay four I said:
Heck, you could even have this issue be the difference between the light and dark side endings of the game. In the former, the Exile would take the real Jedi way and let herself die with Kreia and Malachor so that neither the planet's wound nor her own can be used to threaten the galaxy any longer. In the latter, she'd refuse to make this necessary self-sacrifice and either escape the planet alive or else save it and take over Trayus Academy [and she would] return as one of the major villains of KotOR 3. [...] [H]ere's a KotOR 3 fic idea from out of left field: go with the dark side endings of both games - KotOR and the one I just proposed for TSL. Keep the common fan premise where whoever's left goes into the Unknown Regions and teams up with Revan, but here's the twist: somehow or other they take out the Sith Emperor - like, early on. They throw the Empire into chaos. But then, because they're dark-sided, they turn out to be the real villains of the story: Revan, the Exile, evil Bastila, and everyone else who's still alive and dark-sided from both games' main cast. For your heroes, start with one or two party members who deserted or were left behind or something on account of still being light-sided - such as Handmaiden, Disciple, Mira, perhaps Atton, or even T3 - and throw in a couple original characters, and maybe a third "hero of KotOR 3" to lead them.
—Myself, right above on this same page, brainiac
Again, I was just writing an essay - I had no intention at all of producing anything more or else. Yet very soon after finishing that blasted essay, I started daydreaming. And then brainstorming. In no time at all I had two actual story ideas in my head, corresponding to the two "fixed" alternate endings that I proposed for The Sith Lords. I banged out an outline for each and started writing the dark side one.
Perhaps the main thing that's keeping me on this project (aside from the nostalgia factor) is that it defies a ton of my own rules, preferences, and inclinations, some of which I've mentioned already here and some not. I've said TSL can't or shouldn't be novelized - this is sort of a novelization of TSL, albeit of the "third act" of the game (from the pivotal scene on Dantooine to the end). I've always preferred to write and imagine the Exile as a man - she's a woman in this one (after much wrestling with it, I kept the canon name of Meetra Surik). I've always hated the character of Mical (almost as much as Carth) - Mical's in this one. I've vehemently stressed that I cannot write romance, will not attempt to write it, and do not think it can add much to the story of these characters - and this story has romance in it, though in my own defense, only kinda sorta - my own take on the standard Meetra-Atton-Mical love triangle schtick, with as little irrelevant, cozy, plot-stranging bullshit as I can manage. All in all, it's just a touch riveting for me, knowing what I've got to try to do in what remains of the story, since I'm only into chapter two right now. "What's the Free Man gonna write?" they all ask (all two of them). Well, I'm asking myself the same thing. So I guess if nothing else, the story's an experiment that'll be worth finishing.
Back in essay nine I said in other words that when one begins a story with a premise that many other people have done already, then one must do something to differentiate it, or else it won't be worth bothering with - especially when it comes to fan fiction, which by its very nature is so derivative. Related to this requirement, my goal is to portray the fall of Meetra Surik in a way that the reader is able to buy even after thinking about it for more than two seconds - unlike if you do a dark side playthrough of the actual game, which would have Meetra be a psychopath from the moment she wakes up on Peragus, for no particular reason. The character I'm trying to write is a woman had basically good intentions, but whose descent into darkness is pitiful as well as terrifying; the journey of this hero is her being shattered and rebuilt into a villain.
Like I said above, it's two story ideas I came up with, this one and one with a light-sided Exile. In a sort-of accordance with the quote of mine above which started this whole mess, it is this dark side storyline which will (if Waru wills it) lead into a "KotOR 3" follow-up. As far as I can foresee, I will never write a corresponding sequel for the other one, because I can't think of an interesting way to continue it. It would just be the standard team-up of all the games' heroes against the true Sith, and that's been done to death. The only worthwhile idea for a KotOR 3 plot that I can come up with is to sucker-punch the reader by taking the role of the main villains away from Vitiate and his minions and giving it to Revan, the Exile, and the majority of the (surviving) party members from the games.
But you know something? For all my talk of wanting desperately to be original, it has actually been years since I last read someone else's KotOR fanfic. So perhaps my real hope for originality will lie simply in not thinking about trying to be original.
I'm bored now. Let's talk about something else.
I have to ask myself why I'm so interested in fiction that deals with weighty issues of human morality and character, featuring larger-than-life heroes and villains who pass through titanic struggles and trials; why I come up with such stories and am so interested in those of others, and why I ramble about them in these essays; and why they interest you, and particularly us modern people in general. There's the answer of mere entertainment, of course: "Shut up with all your damn analysis and pass the popcorn." That's a sentiment I can understand and partake in, but not always, and it's not what I come to this place for. And I'm sure that many better and wiser men have articulated my opinion already, but here's how I'd put it. Out of the many causes that one could point out, I would identify one as the ultimate, one so huge that we do not notice it, in the same way that we seldom notice the Earth because of its size. Stories like Star Wars have always enthralled us because they reach one of the desires which a person could only lack if his or her chest were hollowed out and a great, wide hole put in its place.
I think that we all know, deep down, that it's wrong to be a couch potato. We know that it is wrong to settle for being a mild-mannered, tolerant, broad-minded, to-each-his-own humanitarian "nice guy": the modern gentleman or gentlewoman, who loves humanity rather than loving their neighbor, who desires pleasure rather than virtue, who prizes nonviolence in the world but neglects peace of mind, who would rather have a world where courage is obsolete than have to be courageous, and who fears pain more than death and death more than sin (or, if the reader is allergic to that word, moral evil). Our fathers built an entire culture whose purpose is to deny it, but we know that we are supposed to be something better than that, and this is proven precisely by the stories which we are obsessed with, individually and collectively.
We know that we are not people who are willing to take risks, suffer, sacrifice, fight, kill, or die for what we say we believe in and cherish. But we know that we should be, and in spite of everything we wish we were. And that is why we watch so many movies, play so many video games, and read - or write - so many stories about people who are: Luke Skywalker, Revan, Harry Potter, Thomas Anderson, Katniss Everdeen, Bilbo Baggins, Percy Jackson, Guy Montag, Peter Parker, James T. Kirk, King Arthur, Beowulf, Achilles, Hector, Gilgamesh - the list could reach to the nearest galaxy and back. We're obsessed with these characters, but it's not really about secretly wishing we had superpowers or magic; it's not at all about secretly wishing our lives were filled with death-defying battles and struggles to save the world. If anything, we admit to that desire openly. It's really about secretly wishing that we had real virtue, that we lived as though we actually believed that life - our humble, simple, "meaningless," "boring" everyday life - was something worth bothering about; it's about secretly desiring to "choose a path and go down it like a thunderbolt" rather than being a nice guy and accepting ye olde pathwaye of leaste resistance. I think that is the desire that most of us are terrified to admit to, because unlike the other desire, the one for superpowers, this one's object actually is realizable, and it relies entirely on what we freely choose to do.
Of course, there are many other reasons why epic stories stir something in us even today - but it is because of this one that they cannot fail to. It is why (perhaps literally) we cheered to see Rey take up the sword of Skywalker when most of us have probably never dreamed of bearing the displeasure of popular public opinion, let alone taking up a weapon to defend someone or something. No matter how weak and noodly-kneed we become, we will always respond to the stories of heroes. We will never get enough of them because they haunt us, and we love to be haunted. We love it when we look in a mirror and our reflection suddenly moves and speaks of its own accord without warning. The "Hero With A Thousand Faces" has a thousand faces because they are our faces. In the stories we meet this hero, and for a time we come dangerously close to remembering what we look like.
Oh, and it'll be released whenever it's done. Maybe I'll put up some preview snippets as I go along, maybe not. In any case, make sure you go outside while you're waiting. -MPK, Free Man 02:50, October 8, 2016 (UTC)
Appendix B: Dialogue Between Myself and Karohalva
MPK: “Fanfiction nerd moment here. If I was writing Episodes 8 and 9, I'd have it so Rey turns to the dark side and Kylo Ren is somehow redeemed. So not only has the most capable heroine turned evil, but the rest of the good guys don't trust Kylo Ren even though he's on their side and is the only one who could defeat her, so he's on his own.”
Karohalva: “I could live with that. Rey is popular only because she is a slender young woman, not because anything in her character is compelling. Let's be honest, even Luke Skywalker was popular only because he was young and an escapist fantasy hero. He didn't have any meaningful character until ESB.”
MPK: “I'll concede both of those points. And the more I think of it, the more I think Star Wars' popularity comes from its style than from its substance: the perfect blend of sci-fi setting and aesthetic with a fantasy/mythological cast and moral conflict, for instance. The perfect example of that unity, of course, is the lightsaber itself - the laser sword. It's lethally futuristic coolness to the extreme since it's made of LASERS; yet it is also still a sword, which is the most heroic, romantic, and symbolically powerful of weapons.”
— A Text Message Conversation
Appendix C: A Brief Thought or Two on Rogue One - A Star Wars Story
Tempted though I am, I will not write anything in the way of a review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, nor a comprehensive list of my opinions on it. However, to serve as an introduction to my main point, I will go so far as to say that I saw the film two or three times in the theater and enjoyed it very much, though the repeated viewings allowed me to see some considerable flaws in it (which is one of the benefits of repeated viewing). By almost every measure I would rank it as superior to The Force Awakens, both as a part of the Star Wars lore and as a mere film.
Everyone is entitled to the judgements of his or her own particular tastes and whims. As such, although I am not everyone, the most worthwhile thing I have to say about my view of Rogue One is this: my absolute favorite scene in the movie is not the finale, with Vader's rampage on the rebel flagship and the narrow escape of the Tantive IV. That one ranks high up, to be sure. However, I firmly believe that the most affective and perfect scene of the movie occurs at the end of the first act; it is the one where Jyn is hearing her father's message, while at the same time the Death Star is firing on Jedha.
A seasoned and articulate critic (which I am certainly not) could go on for many paragraphs about that scene. Such a one could go on and on about Giacchino's soundtrack, about the acting, about the cinematography and the stunning visuals, and so on. All that I can say is this: it is my own contention that the very heart of the Star Wars saga's worth as a creative work, even more important than its aesthetic, is the fact that it is a drama about a family; it is this immortal tale of how a particular family is broken and then strives to somehow be redeemed. Considered as a whole, Rogue One doesn't do this as well as the actual Star Wars saga does, which is probably why I found Galen Erso's actual death later in the movie less powerful than this earlier scene. But it is in this earlier scene that, for as long as it lasts, the movie taps that theme to perfection.
XIV - On the Dilemma of Anakin Skywalker
At peril of my mental balance, not to mention my finite free time, I have at times looked back at my Looking Back series. The first thing that strikes me is how seven of the original thirteen essays centered around the Knights of the Old Republic games. Moreover, it seems to me that they all have much more to do with the Expanded Universe than with the actual Star Wars motion pictures. There are many reasons one could suppose as for why I never saw fit to devote any significant writing to the films, but the most important, I think, is that so much has been said and written about them that I could hardly come up with anything worth throwing on the pile that hasn't been said already. It is only recently, on the occasion of the release of The Last Jedi that I have at last concocted a thesis which, as I see it, contains perhaps enough obscure or "original" thought as to warrant its composition. So as usual, we shall see.
I leave it for a future essay to directly discuss the merits and demerits of the Star Wars Prequel trilogy. In this essay I will instead focus on one issue to do with that trilogy which interests me personally and which, I hope, will offer my readers at least some food for thought. As a preliminary, however, I would like to ask a certain favor of the interested reader (if any such one exists): if it should happen to be the case that you very strongly despise the Prequels as movies, the essay perhaps will be of limited use to you, unless you consciously choose to set aside that animosity for a time and, as I discuss various parts of its plot and characterization, wilfully adjust your lens so as to consider them in broad strokes. That way, my points will be more intelligible and you may give them your better attention, without being distracted by memories of bad acting or plot holes or whatever else about the Prequels you find disagreeable.
Enough of that. What this essay is finally meant to be (in two or three times as many words as necessary, of course) is a good old-fashioned explanation of why a bunch of other Star Wars fans are stupid and/or morally debased, and why I'm right instead of them. As for the position that I mean herein to refute, I don't know how widespread it really was, but when I was much more active in fandom forums and when I regularly read other people's fan fiction, it at least appeared to be very common. It was very frequently expressed in a plain manner in discussions, and it was often a theme in fan fiction set during the Prequels, and at its full strength, its substance was basically this: it was insisted that the good guy in the Star Wars Prequels was Anakin Skywalker, and him alone. Anakin, that handsome, dreamy, brooding adventurer who was driven to the dark side by Palpatine's machinations, but also at least as much (if not more so) by those stodgy, ignorant, dogmatic Jedi Masters with their puritanical insistence that Jedi are forbidden to marry. Anakin couldn't handle being told that he wasn't allowed to love, so he succumbed to the dark side and became Darth Vader. It was the Jedi Council's fault because if they had just allowed Jedi to marry, he wouldn't have had to live a double life, and the Jedi Council could have given him Jedi Counseling so that he wouldn't have gone crazy with paranoia over his prophetic dreams of his wife dying in childbirth. He would've kept his cool, resisted Palpatine's smooth-talk, and the Sith plot would have been foiled. If only those pesky Jedi weren't so rigid and dogmatic. That's basically the argument, and I reject it, whole and entire, as a product of a faulty and even dangerous sense of ethics, one which subverts and at least implicitly rejects the fundamental realities of human freedom as well as love.
There are many, many things about this matter which I will not deliberately touch on in this essay, much of them having to do with plot developments both in Revenge of the Sith and in the various Expanded Universe works. These I will not focus on; my focus instead will be on the simple morality of the situation that Anakin finds himself in, as regards his affair with Padme Amidala: what was the right thing for him to do, what was the wrong thing, and why.
As a preface to my own arguments, I will divulge one thing which alters the angle from which I approach the question. I'm unable to see it any other way: the Jedi being prohibited to marry rhymes with clerical and monastic celibacy. So from the get-go, I have to admit to a kind of bias in favor of the Jedi Council's rule, and against Anakin's flouting of it. Even so, I dare to argue that in addition to mere bias, my Roman Catholicism gives me a shred of actual insight into the matter, because I (though a layman) am able to see celibacy as a definite, concrete thing with an actual shape and purpose, rather than (as it is viewed by certain outsiders and, lamentably, by certain insiders) a perverse, irrational rule that is touted by certain perverse, irrational people. However, my position is not simply a straight-forward "pro-Jedi celibacy" one, nor could it be, since the Jedi Order canonically neither appears nor claims, in-universe, to have any sort of actual divine command or inspiration behind its teachings or disciplines. But again, there is a certain "rhyme" there between it and the Church, so disclosing this rhyme, perhaps, will make my own position more intelligible.
So what is my position? Well, to start with, if you forced me to "take a side," I would take that of the Jedi Order against Anakin's particular choices; but again, my position is (I hope) more nuanced than that.
I explained above that I carry a predisposition to approve of Jedi celibacy (or at least to not condemn it) as a result of my religion. More integral to my position, however, is another belief that I carry as a result of my religion: the doctrine of free will. The fangirls whom I am opposing here (and I'm quite certain they were mostly girls) excused Skywalker because, they said, the Jedi rule was unfair; I condemn him because I believe that he is actually responsible for his own actions, and they were the wrong actions.
The fangirls' arguments essentially consisted of two parts, which needed not be presented in any such order: but in the first they would remind the reader, as if it were necessary, of one or two or all of the things that had happened to Skywalker or had been done to him in his life that were bad or painful or in any way unpleasant. And the second part, the conclusion, would be, "Therefore he was right and the Jedi were wrong! How dare they tell him he couldn't love! How dare they tell him he couldn't marry!"
Here's the thing, though: the rule was never, "Anakin Skywalker may not marry"; the rule was, "Anakin Skywalker may not marry while still being a Jedi." We could argue back and forth all day about whether it was right or wrong for the Jedi Order to have the rule against marriage. However, whether it was right or wrong is really beside the point, and I don't have a dog in that fight. What's wrong is for Anakin to become a liar, to try to have it both ways, to hold himself out in public as this great Jedi Knight while secretly violating the Jedi precepts, to think that he's just special, so the rules don't apply to him. His sin was not that he made the wrong choice, but that he, in fact, refused to choose. He refused to choose by trying to choose both, and yet neither option was actually forbidden; they merely forbade each other. If at the end of Attack of the Clones he had said to Padme, "I can't be with you. I'm a Jedi and the galaxy needs me," that would have been the right decision. And if he had said to the Council, "I can't do this, Masters. I want to marry and raise a family. Here's my lightsaber," that also would have been the right decision.
The complaints about the rule of Jedi celibacy are really, at rock bottom, an attack on Anakin Skywalker's free will, because they indirectly deny that he has the ability to make this choice between the two alternatives, to decide which of his two desires - to be a Jedi and to marry that politician - was more important. But the fangirls never addressed this; they would just complain about Obi-Wan being too strict and Yoda being too distant and the Jedi leaving Anakin's mother on Tatooine, and about Anakin being forced to become a Jedi as a child - which he wasn't, incidentally. But even if he was, even if all the complaints were true, even if all these things exerted such a great influence on his psyche, and they might indeed have done so, even if literally everything in his life really was so unfair, that cannot change the answer to the question of what, objectively, the man ought to have done. To suggest that they can is to rob him of full personhood. In reality, he was not trapped by the Jedi. He had the freedom, any time he wanted, to quit. He was not denied this option either formally or circumstantially. He was an accomplished pilot and mechanic. Hell, he'd built a protocol droid when he was, like, ten. It's not like he'd be unable to make a living outside the Jedi Temple.
Yet the fangirls kept on talking about how emotionally stunted Anakin was and how he was supposedly abused by the "repression" of the Jedi teachings, always lamenting about how his wonderful, beautiful individual self, with all its unrepeatable individual desires and passions and experiences, was being crushed by being forced to do what he didn't want to do. But it is my position, not theirs, which actually values Anakin as an individual who can make his own choices and, if you want to use the phrase, determine himself. Their point of view does not in fact respect him at all as a free moral agent. According to it, rather than determining himself, he is determined by his passions, and bound by them far more than by the Jedi Council.
The retort to this, I suppose, is to fall back on the argument from unfairness, raised to the highest power: why should Anakin have to choose between two lives at all? Why shouldn't he be allowed to have both?
Well, I don't know. Again, it's not the answer I'd give if you were to ask me, as a Catholic, why there should be clerical celibacy. My argument is not, "There should be Jedi celibacy, therefore Anakin should be celibate," but rather, "There is Jedi celibacy, therefore Jedi should be celibate, and therefore Anakin should decide whether to be a Jedi." He doesn't get to make the rules. He has limits. He can love if he wants, but the kind of love we're talking about here, the kind in a world like our own, is exclusive. You can't give one hundred percent of yourself to two different persons or ideals or causes. Anakin can't really be married to Padme and be a Jedi anymore than he can be married to Padme and also to, say, Mas Amedda.
(The Brain Bleach is in the hallway closet.)
Call me old-fashioned, but the more I've thought about such matters in recent years, the more it's seemed to me that one of the things that spoils life the most, that rots its fruits and stifles its pleasures, is when we try to do what Anakin does and "have it both ways"; when we adopt a life of insincerity; when we commit to a philosophy of non-commitance; when we revolt against the adventure and drama and suspense of the fact that life cannot be repeated and no choice can be taken back.
I make no pretense to originality in the ideals and principles which I hold and which I bring to bear here. As Jean-Luc Picard once put it, "Living is making choices." And as a still more immortal personage put it...
The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — ‘free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-favoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants. It is exactly this backdoor, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterlizing spirit in modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it. Thus, in politics the modern Jingoes practically say, ‘Let us have the pleasure of conquerors without the pains of soldiers: let us sit on sofas and be a hardy race.’ Thus, in religion and morals, the decadent mystics say: ‘Let us have the fragrance of sacred purity without the sorrows of self-restraint; let us sing hymns alternately to the Virgin and Priapus.’ Thus in love the free-lovers say: ‘Let us have the splendour of offering ourselves without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot commit suicide an unlimited number of times.’
—G. K. Chesterton (A Defence of Rash Vows)
Chesterton, of course, is not talking about the exact same thing here, but I maintain that the underlying principle, which I emphasized in the quotation, applies exactly to Anakin Skywalker's situation. And it is, again, a case of giving my opinion using several times as many words as are necessary.
But in closing, I will sum up my case in the most succinct way that I can: where is the honor and the glory for Skywalker in being a Jedi, in being a noble warrior monk, if he will not quench his passions by denying himself for the sake of duty? And how does his love for his wife burn with the heat of a million suns if it does not drive him to sacrifice that duty for her?
XV - Being the Author's Overall Opinion of the Prequels, Approximately Once and for All
A Characteristically Disjointed Introductory
Apparently this is still a touchy subject. Admittedly, it is for me too, if only out of a pure mental reflex which was implanted in me during my adolescence and which will, I do not doubt, take many years to uproot.
The point is, after some years of not thinking about the whole matter very much, I've revisted it and come to the conclusion that the Star Wars Prequels do not deserve even a fraction of the vitriol they have received, not even a lot of the disappointment. In my estimation, each of them are decent, passable, in spite of their significant flaws. Worth watching once or maybe twice, but not bad, and certainly not worthy of their cultural status as legendarily awful. I admit that I reach this conclusion after having not seen any of these movies start to finish in some years, and perhaps upon doing so I would find the acting and so on much more cringe-inducing than I remember. But so be it. This is my verdict on them, and I'm sticking to it. And as with the previous essay, I am only bothering to begin this one in the hope that in it I have something of my own to say.
Quite a bit of the classical gnashing of teeth over the Prequels apparently had to do with their supposed over-reliance on computer-generated environments and special effects, to the detriment of all else. It's a false and oversimplified narrative. It is easily verifiable that many physical sets, models, and props were constructed and used for these three films, and in any case the ratio of computer to practical effects really has no bearing on the quality of the plot and acting and so on. More to the point, the most scathing critic of of the Prequels, if he has integrity, should at least be able to begrudgingly admit that even if every single other aspect was hot garbage, the one thing that they did a great job on was the visuals, particularly the various environments. From start to finish, the Prequel trilogy really does feel like it's set in its own fantastic universe, a big universe teeming with bizarre alien life and exotic locations.
And, in this regard, every one of the Prequels does a far better job of world-building than The Force Awakens. By contrast, TFA just feels like an Original Trilogy theme park, with every single one of its visual environments being a knockoff of some place from Episodes IV-VI, or at best a blend of one or two. Jakku is another Tatooine; Maz's castle is the Mos Eisley cantina plus Jabba's palace; the Resistance Base is another Yavin IV; Starkiller Base's interior is another Death Star interior; et cetera. The only exceptions I can think of are the frozen forest of Starkiller Base's surface, and the inside of the freighter that Han Solo and Chewbacca use to recapture the Milennium Falcon. And yes, of course the dressing is not the only important part of a film, or the most important; but still, it is an important part. Thankfully, The Last Jedi (which will not get its own essay anytime soon) managed to improve upon this.
The Million-Credit Question
All right. With those preliminaries out of the way, let's get to the big question. I said that the Prequels are deeply flawed, even though I will defend them on many points. So what is the one big and biggest problem with them? It isn't Jar Jar Binks, it isn't the acting, and it's not that they had "too much politics."
The single biggest and most damaging problem with the Prequel trilogy is simply that it is not a single cohesive, whole story; the very foundation of its narrative is defective. Appropriately enough, the culprit here is The Phantom Menace. The way in which it does this may not be obvious at first, but its placement in time, in-universe, and its consequences fatally undermine the entire trilogy as a whole, and serves to underscore the fact that Episode I was written with Episodes II and III completely out of mind.
Think about it. Even if you're generous enough to believe (as I do) that Phantom Menace is just an okay movie instead of a bad one, it is undeniable that it just doesn't know what it's doing or why in the overall context of the Star Wars saga. One can easily imagine an acquaintance of Mr. Lucas looking at the script and asking, "How's it going to lead to the other two movies?", and Mr. Lucas cheerfully replying, "I dunno, I'll figure it out later. But it's cool, though, huh?"
And this is the reason why the closest thing that Phantom Menace has to a protagonist is Qui-Gon Jinn, who dies at the end, while Anakin Skywalker, who was actually supposed to be the main character of the whole trilogy, is a secondary character who doesn't appear until halfway through. And, most significantly, it's why Anakin Skywalker is a kid, which forces a wedge of ten years of in-universe time between Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Consequentially, the former movie feels like its own story, which is loosely connected to a second arc, consisting of the latter with Revenge of the Sith. It is from this rupture that all of the biggest problems with the movies proceed. In fact, many of the events of Episode I, even the Naboo Crisis itself, could have been condensed or shoved into the backstory or exposition, and to the overall story's improvement. The fact that they are not is the wellspring of capital error from which there spring so many smaller ones.
And, it seems to me, it all could have been avoided by a couple rewrites. Stover took Episode III, which was all right, and made it pretty damn good, essentially by just polishing up the dialogue and tweaking a few plot events. There's no reason the whole trilogy couldn't have been fixed in a similar way, earlier on in the creative process.
Here's an example. A very common and very legitimate charge made against the Prequels is that its villains are not sufficiently developed, and we are not allowed to get to know them. In fact, Palpatine is the only one we get to see a lot of in the course of all three movies, while the others are short-changed. Christopher Lee was an unforgettable actor, but Count Dooku doesn't appear until the latter part of Episode II, and he dies early on into III. Yet, given his personal connections to our heroes and to Palpatine, a character of such importance ought to have had much more screen time. Had the trilogy been written or re-written as a single story, Dooku could have been introduced as a side-character in The Phantom Menace, showing his different relationships with and perspectives on Yoda, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Anakin, and his disillusionment with the Republic, and his benevolent elitism, and the loss of his Padawan as the catalyst for his abandonment of the Jedi Order. Dooku's story is a very rich, multi-layered one. The problem, of course, is that it wasn't actually in the Prequel movies; it was in Yoda: Dark Rendzevous, in Stover's Revenge of the Sith novelization, and in Luceno's Darth Plagueis.
General Grievous is in a similar but even worse position. His voice, mannerisms, and design are all excellent, making you wonder just what the hell he is and where he came from. But because he is stuffed into Episode III with no real introduction, he's never given any time to be built up, either as a character with his own motivations or as a serious threat to our heroes. His ominous reputation as a slayer of Jedi goes unjustified, with him losing every confrontation he's involved in.
And so it is with many other characters and many other strands of the plot, which end up being resolved poorly or given no resolution at all. One particularly glaring example is the mystery of the clone army's origin. Who was Sifo-Dyas, how did he fit into everything, and what happened to him? Obi-Wan and the Jedi never find out in Attack of the Clones, and (as many fans have pointed out) in hindsight they look like idiots in Revenge of the Sith for apparently giving up on the investigation and never thinking about it again. But this, too, is at least partly a consequence of Episode I wasting so much time; because the mystery of Sifo-Dyas could then only be opened up in the second movie, and so many other events needed to be crammed into the third that it probably couldn't be fit in among them if the writers tried.
There are many other examples of this. And, obviously, there are other problems in these movies which are not a direct consequence; but that is the essence of my position. To close, I will quote some other nerd, with whom I am mostly in agreement on this matter:
The way I look at it the prequels were a failing of execution not of story. The story was largely there, but how they brought it to life was flawed. If you look beyond bad dialogue and poor acting the Prequels are one of the greatest tragedies in fiction. Beyond the Tragedy of Darth Vader it was the fall of the Old Republic, the Republic that has stood for ten thousand years, as a beacon of light in the darkness, of civilization and the ideal that all the species of the galaxy can come and work together as equals. Is it perfect? No. No system or government is, but it was something truly grand. In the end the Republic was brought low not through barbarian invasions or outside threats but by the weakness of those who should have strengthen[ed] it. By the failings and the corruption of the organs of government to the blindness of its greatest guardians to perhaps worst of all to the apathy of the common people who allowed democracy to die. The story and the potential greatness is there behind the flaws; which is something I thought the existing EU now legends allowed to come to the fore.
—Some Nerd on a Forum Somewhere
As a postscript, due to a lack of topics in my mind, this will most likely be my last essay for another while. Fine. Maybe now I'll actually get some prose done for a change. -MPK, Free Man 20:38, December 26, 2017 (UTC)
XVI: Not One Rey of Hope
I suppose it was inevitable that eventually I would, in this semi-organized and tenuously methodical format, offer my more-or-less definitive and solidified thoughts on The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. As with my previous two essays on the Prequels, this is not going to be a "movie review" for either of them, but simply those thoughts of mine about them that I deem to be most important, useful, or significant. Likewise, I am only putting down these opinions of mine because I have not seen them expressed elsewhere, or at least not in these particular terms; were I not able to at least fool myself that I am one of a creative minority, I would not bother sharing this analysis in the first place.
It's not going to be particularly polished, or even remotely comprehensive. But I hope it'll be sort of coherent; but in the end, the other reason I'm writing this is to get it out of my brain as fast as I can, so I can go back to the story that I'm actually supposed to be writing.
Perhaps I will come across as out of touch with the mainstream public discourse on these topics; that is because I am out of touch, and have given only the barest quantity of attention to, for instance, the arguments and debates that go on in the intellectual cell blocks of social media. And I think my life has been better for it, if only just a little. As I sometimes tell my friends, I may not be a holy man, but I am surely a blessed man.
Strong Independent Woman Who Don't Need No Jedi Master
From the start, a lot of hullabaloo has been raised about the unfortunate heroine of this unfortunate trilogy, Rey of Jakku. The first point I must make is that I love boxes, and I have loved boxes since I was a child. So I have no problem with being put in the "Is Not Satisfied With Rey's Characterization" box, as long as the box is big enough. When I first saw The Force Awakens in the theater, I was as excited as anyone at that moment when she finally takes up Luke's saber to fight Kylo Ren; it struck me as the culmination of a slight twist, in that the trailers, promotional material, and the movie up to that point seemed mainly to be leading us to believe that it was Finn who would be the saber-toting upstart Jedi. I thought it was clever. But as more time passed, and especially looking back after having seen Episode VIII, I've found I couldn't keep up my general enthusiasm, or my hope that Rey would end up having any sort of a coherent, compelling character arc by the time the trilogy's closed up in December (barring a case of divine intervention or something).
Let me defend myself, if I may. I've always been open to Rey's character, and the trilogy in general, going in ways other than I expected them to. I'm not one of those delusional fanboys who thinks that reality is shaped by their own minds, and who saw The Force Awakens and then literally believed that their own theories and speculations about what would happen next would, or should, have any influence on what was actually going to be written. And I heard quite a few of these fan theories, ones that I have the impression were somewhat popular and widely known, and I hated almost all of them, and was leery even of those that seemed to have a shred of actual precedence in the film itself. So I didn't want Rey to turn out to be a Skywalker, or her mother to be Jyn Erso. I did not want Snoke to turn out to be one of the Inquisitors from that ridiculous new cartoon - much less did I want him to be Darth Plagueis. I didn't want fuckin' Thrawn to show up. I didn't want Finn and Poe to be flits (a move which, like so many in TLJ, would have been a clumsy and self-indulgent torpedoing of what had been obviously set up in TFA). I didn't want Snoke to turn out to be Mace Windu (though taking one of the only major Star Wars characters played by a black dude and bringing him back from the dead as a white dude would have been hysterically insensitive). And I did not want Rey to be Anakin Skywalker's gender-bent reincarnated spirit.
Not a few people who are critical of Rey throw around the term "Mary Sue". I can see what superficial things lead them to think that, most of all her rapid accumulation of skills and powers in the last part of Episode VII. When she first meets Kylo Ren she's immediately toast. Then she's able to resist his mind-reading powers. Then she can use Jedi mind tricks. Then telekinesis. Then she spontaneously knows how to swordfight - and all of these latter developments basically within a day of each other.
Some say that this development of Rey's powers is not inconsistent with what was established for Force-users in the other movies. They are wrong. But even if they're not, and it's actually yours truly who is mistaken about how space-magic works, I still maintain that this was an unwise thing to write, particularly with the benefit of hindsight. Let's take Episode VII on its own for a moment. It's really about more important things than metaphysics and mysticism; what it really comes down to is the matter of dramatic integrity.
You see, I have the gift of space-time telephathic clairovoyance (but only just this once), so I can tell you what was going through J. J. Abram's head when he decided to write the climax of the movie this way. He said this to himself, verbatim: "I'm writing a fuckin' Star Wars movie. That means there's a fuckin' lightsaber duel at the end. And people want to see the protagonist win, so she's gonna win. It's gonna look really fuckin' cool." Well, he was right - Rey's can-of-spinach girl power second-wind moment did look cool, but what are the consequences? What does it do when you climax the first act of a three-act story with a duel between the heroine and the villain, wherein said heroine not merely survives, or even fights to a draw, but fucking spanks him? Does it do any favors for our belief that the antagonist is a serious, credible physical threat?
Suppose A New Hope had ended with Luke spanking Darth Vader in exactly the same way - after having only just begun down the path of the Jedi, having undergone almost no instruction, no prolonged, intensive training and discipline. That'd kind of take the wind out of the sails when they met again in Empire, wouldn't it? And yes, I've read Splinter of the Mind's Eye - no need to remind me it exists.
Is This a Star Wars Movie Or Not?
So in my rambling, roundabout way, I've presumably demonstrated that Episode VII's climax gave us a rocky start for the trilogy, far as the arcs of Rey and Kylo Ren go. But for all my complaints, I could've swallowed the whole thing anyway - because if you'll recall, the significance of these events is not completely lost on the characters themselves. What do we get early on in Episode VIII? We get Luke being shocked at how powerful Rey is in spite of not being trained: "I've seen this kind of raw strength before. It didn't scare me enough then. It does now." But that's in the earlier part of The Last Jedi, when the movie still actually has something to do with the movie to which it is a sequel.
You see where I'm going with this.
I just spilled a lot of words complaining about Rey's sudden, unearned achievements and abilities. But even though Abrams pretty obviously didn't know himself what their origin was - in-universe, I mean - the fact remains that it pretty clearly set out what was supposed to happen with her arc in the next two movies. The fact that Rey is special, that she has this terrific, sudden mystery about her, that is what's established in act one. It's not well-established - it's as ponderous and clumsy as a drunk elephant - but it is what it is. So if you're put in charge of writing act two, what you have to do is explain why Rey's special; aside from that simple parameter, the sky is the limit.
I see what Rian Johnson wanted to do in Episode VIII - I think. In a way I'm with him - I actually prefer the idea of the Sequel Trilogy's heroine being "Rey of Jakku, A.K.A., No One." As I so laboriously explained above, I never wanted her to turn out to be a Skywalker, or any other super-duper-special thing. There's a lot of compelling potential in showing us a person who wants to be heroic, who thinks she's destined to it for a mythological reason like "the mighty Skywalker blood" that Luke talks about; only to realize that she doesn't have that destiny, there isn't anything special about her past, but she resists the temptation to despair and remains pure and becomes a true heroine.
But Rey just can't be "no one" and special at the same time. In TFA she's obviously special, but then in TLJ she turns out to be no one, and this bald-faced contradiction only serves to retroactively make her incredible exploits in both movies make no sense. Well, until Abrams slams the Retcon Button in Episode IX, of course. Rey is not a Mary Sue; she's just badly developed. Two writers pulled her character in opposite directions, and in the process ripped her in half.
You Caught Me, Guys, I'm Really Only Saying All This Because I'm a Fascist
This is just the beginning.
The first time I saw The Last Jedi, I knew it was gonna be the odd man out, and that it would take multiple viewings and a lot of digestion time to figure out. I think a year and a half's been long enough. The unfortunate reality is just that its themes are flash-fried chop suey. On Rey's side of the plot, it's constantly flip-flopping over whether Luke's right and the Jedi ways need to end. In the end the movie seems to answer in the negative via Luke himself - "I will not be the last Jedi!" But the film never really explores what it particularly means to be a Jedi, and Rey never learns such things, either from Luke or from those Ancient Sacred Jedi Texts which were supposedly so important. We hear Luke's earlier arguments against the Jedi, like how the Force and the light don't belong to them - and it was honestly kind of compelling. But where was the counter-point?
What are we supposed to make of Ghost-Yoda's intervention? Is there nothing in those books at all that Rey needs to be a Jedi that she doesn't already have in her? She caught the Holy Ghost by accident? She really wants to help innocent people, fight evildoers for great justice, and face full-life consequences. Okay... Is that really all there is to it? Everything else we've seen and been told, and all the thousands of years of lore, tradition, customs, everything the Jedi Order built and accumulated up until the time of the Prequels - in either the new EU or the old - is all that stuff just non-essential accretions? Why did Luke need to go to the trouble of building a whole new secluded academy and everything if you can just wing it and cram all the basic Jedi skills and precepts in a week like Rey did? (But wait - she could only do that because she's super-duper special. Oh wait, no she's not, she's just a nobody...)
Listen, man, I know I'm a freak. I know most of the folk who watch these movies, and even the ones who get into the video games and the books, almost all of them aren't the types of people who could get lost digging into all the historical and philosophical minutiae of a fictional monastic order of space-wizard-knights. But you know, we got one philosophical this-is-what-it-means-to-be-a-Jedi thing that the Prequels tried to talk about intelligently in the principle of detachment; say what you want about the execution, but they tried. The Last Jedi gives us nothing - it just beats around the bush. But at the end it turns out that Rey's got the books after all. So which is it? Does she need them or not? Do you see what I mean? How can something with so little intellectual content make my fucking brain hurt so much?
Kylo Ren's arc is no better - which is a crying shame, because the A-Plot which consists of him, Snoke, Luke, and Rey is the only part of the movie that I honestly enjoyed watching. He's constantly talking about letting the past die. But from the beginning of the movie to the end, he's dressed in black, swinging a red lightsaber, trying to crush the intrepid band of freedom fighters which represents the cause of the Old Republic and the Jedi, and trying to resurrect the Galactic Empire. He isn't letting the past die at all - everything he does is an attempt to restore and relive an (imaginary) past which he idolizes. Which is exactly what he was trying to do in The Force Awakens - so why does Episode VIII treat it like he's changing his goals and ideals? Maybe that's just another clever, daring subversion of the audience's expectations. Wait, you don't like them? What's wrong with you? What do you have against womyn?
I hadn't really wanted to get into speculation about what this movie has to do with political correctness and all that, but every time it comes to mind now, it's hard not to wonder. It's hard to not have just a little suspicion of such toxic influences when almost every single major male character is evil, morally compromised, or else hopelessly misguided and unable to see reason until finally some tough woman comes along and sets him straight. On the other hand, though, Luke seems to be an exception, since he apparently needs Ghost-Yoda's admonitions as well as Rey's. So for me, it'd be difficult to say how far deep the feminist influence goes (though the surface-level manifestations make it easy to understand why some would think it does go deep).
Other pernicious influences, however, are much more clear. The Last Jedi is full of twists, subversions, and reversals, there's no disputing that. But if you take them all together, there's a certain pattern that starts to emerge. You wanted to learn about Rey's special, mysterious past and her mysterious parents? Well, there's nothing to learn - they were just drunks who sold her for booze. You liked Poe, the heroic super-pilot hotshot? Rooting for him to find the mole aboard the Raddus and get to the bottom of things? Well, there is no mole - Poe's actually just a dumb jock who can't stand taking orders from a woman (or some damn thing) and gets almost everyone killed. You're interested in the super-mysterious mastermind Snoke? You wanted to learn something about his backstory, like what he had to do with Luke and Leia, or exactly how he turned Ben Solo to the dark side? Well, too bad - instead he's only gonna appear in three scenes and get unceremoniously pasted without revealing anything at all. What do the twists all have in common? It's called deconstruction, which is an approach to narratives characterized, more than anything else, by an unswerving commitment to calculated nastiness. The way it works is that you take whatever the subject matter is and then "reveal" that it's actually corrupt, banal, base, or mundane. Respect for your source material? Consistency with what came before? Harmony with the historically proven, tried-and-true archetypes and forms of storytelling? Don't be ridiculous, this is the Current Date; we've outgrown such silly superstitions. What you need to do is take the audience's expectations and subvert them - and the very fact that you subverted them proves in itself that you're a fucking genius. Everything that happens is the opposite of what they thought would happen! Isn't that so very clever? Sure, I suppose so, from a certain point of view - in exactly the same way that it would be very clever of me to just spontaneously piss myself while in the middle of a conversation with you, from a certain point of view.
The Last Jedi is one of those stories that just collapses under the weight of its own supposed intellect - too clever by two and a half. Whatever his other motivations, it's clear that Johnson was so concerned with being clever that he forgot about everything else. The result is that Episode VIII does not do the one thing that a sequel, by its nature, is supposed to do: start where the previous story ended and keep going. Obviously twists, subversions, and surprises are all well and good, I'm not disputing that. Once again, I held almost all of the fanboy theories and expectations in contempt. If he didn't like how Rey was set up in the first movie to be special, and had wanted to do a story where the heroine is no one - fair enough, I would agree with him on that. But that's just not what he was given to start with. It's like if two men were given the task of painting a wall, taking turns working in shifts, and the first man were to somehow put a hole in it. Then the second man, under the influence of his sophisticated and eccentric intuitions, decided to neglect the business of repairing the hole in the wall and instead made the hole twice as big. Then the first man comes back on the third shift and is expected to finish painting the thing.
Widen the Range
A particularly damning prognosis that Star Wars dorks like us sometimes use for official stories is to compare them to "bad fan fiction." I've heard it applied variously to all of the new movies, but for all their flaws I find the notion imprecise and sloppy. The most quintessentially bad fan fiction writing trait is the presence of the Mary Sue, the protagonist who is so unchallengable and so important that everything in reality warps itself so that she is always right about everything; and there is no Mary Sue in Disney's Star Wars saga - not even Rey, as I've detailed above. I myself don't use the "bad fan fiction" comparison often; in fact, I can think of nothing I would apply it to except for Karen Traviss' Mando-Fando garbage.
As I see it, these new Star Wars movies do not have much in common with bad fan fiction. They also don't feel to me like a pandering, nostalgic throwback to the Original Trilogy, thick though they are with moments of such pandering. What they actually are, it seems to me, is a throwback to the old Expanded Universe. It has to be unwitting on their part, given they de-canonized the whole thing, but I've not heard any other characterization that fits so well. But to be clear, we're not talking the Thrawn Trilogy, the Han Solo Adventures, or the folks like Matt Stover and James Luceno; these new movies are channeling the spirit of the worst of the old, classic EU at its corniest and most cringe-inducing.
You know the ones. Kevin Anderson. The Crystal Star. The Last Jedi's clamoring hijinx on the casino planet, with its clumsy environmentalist aesop where Finn and Rose (a plague on her house) save a few dozen of those space-horse things and zero of the slave children tending them - that could've been ripped straight out of The Glove of Darth Vader. Save the whaladons! Many have noted how the Solo movie is littered with old EU references; it fits, because the whole course of the film's second half - Han, Chewie, Lando, and a fembot have to make the Kessel Run and defeat Black Sun - gave me a real Tales of the Bounty Hunters vibe. And this isn't from the old-school EU, but it bears mentioning: Han and Leia have a son who turns to the dark side of the Force.
Decades after Endor, the main source of villainy in the galaxy is a group of knock-off Imperials trying to restore the Empire, influenced or led by a couple of knock-off Sith Lords. And there's plenty of staggering, buffoonish incompetence to go around, especially on the military side of things. Comically more often than not, their evil plans display a cartoonish over-reliance on gimmicky technology and superweapons. Sound familiar?
And if anything, these similarities seem only to be getting eerier, the longer this Disney farce goes on. I know I wasn't the only person to almost immediately recognize that Starkiller Base is basically just the Galaxy Gun, but if Palpatine really is gonna be back from the dead in Episode IX like the teaser suggests... Man, this is Dark Empire all over again. They may have killed the old franchise, but the old franchise has a ghost, and the ghost is angry.
A Person Is Smart - People, On the Other Hand...
Here's what slays me, more than anything else. And I'm mainly talking about Episode VIII, but really, this goes for all of the new Star Wars movies we've seen (except for Rogue One, I suppose).
So how does this happen? The answer subverts our expectations - and wouldn't Johnson be proud of that. The answer is, it doesn't take one of us. It doesn't take some mouth-breathing, pimply-faced, pencilneck twerp who's read every single one of the Expanded Universe novels and can't speak to a girl without having a panic attack. It doesn't take a couple of nerds who pack a camera and some Halloween costumes and go into the nearest forest park to make a fan film. It doesn't take an insecure degenerate feminist shrew who thinks Carth Onasi is just so dreamy (or who thinks she can fix bad boys like Atton Rand) and who screams sexism at anyone who thinks Revan and the Exile canonically should have both been men. It doesn't take an overeducated midwestern Catholic bigot who hasn't been on a date in years, and who knows more about Star Wars than the Bible.
No, you have to be an acclaimed movie director with years of education and experience in filmmaking. You need to have an all-star cast of beloved actors and actresses, a multimillion-dollar budget, and a world-class film crew packed with talented, enthusiastic people. That's what it takes to fuck up a Star Wars film.
The Star Warriors: Where Are They Now???
In late November of 2019, just before the release of The Rise of Skywalker, my colleague Atarumaster88 wrote to me, quite aglow with praise for Essay XVI. His most magnanimous message ended with what rather comes across as a request for an encore:
In response to which I wrote the following, which is reproduced below for posterity.
Your Galaxy As I See It
Since you ask...
Obviously I cannot give a complete opinion on the trilogy whilst said trilogy is not yet completed itself. Looking at it so far, though, the most succinct way I can put it is this: though I do like some of the things that the Sequel Trilogy did with the Big Three, overall I am stunned by its incompetence in this regard.
May as well go in order - so Han Solo first. In many ways his character, like so many other things in The Force Awakens, was strangled at least half to death by the film's absolutely gluttonous appetite for cheap nostalgia tricks. It's so damn scared that people won't recognize it as Star Wars if it has too many original thoughts - so instead of Han and Chewbacca being part of the Resistance or looking for Luke on their own or whatever, they're right back where they were when we met them in A New Hope - two scoundrels, dodging other scoundrels, who end up as reluctant do-gooders after crossing paths with the main protagonists.
Though I have mixed feelings about it now, I thought initially, and still think at least in part, that killing Solo off in TFA was one of the only genuinely daring and impressive things that movie did - along with Kylo Ren's arc, to which it is connected. Having him die while trying to save his son's soul is an honorable way for him to go out. And though killing Han off so early in the trilogy has unfortunate consequences for the rest of it (which I'll get to eventually), to this day I still think it's an absolutely bone-chilling moment when he sees Kylo on the catwalk and goes out to confront him.
As for Luke... The basic idea of him giving up and going into exile after the failure of his Jedi academy, and it being up to Rey and/or the other characters to bring him back onto the Jedi path - I'm not as dead-set against that premise as some are; I don't think it's "character assassination", as I've heard it called. But the way they did it, most of all the exact reason for his giving up? Karohalva helped me figure this out (dunno if you remember him, but he and I still correspond) - it gets Luke's character exactly backwards.
The way I see it, what makes Luke Skywalker so beloved as a hero, both in terms of popular culture and the Star Wars fandom, is what we see of him in his personal quest in RotJ, which in turn is what makes him an apex of the Jedi ideal: more than his ability to face and kill evildoers, he has a kind of moral perception: he's able to see when it is possible to turn an enemy into a friend, to convince an evildoer to come back to the light, and he believes in this with a faith that is anything but naive. Both of his mentors think that Vader has gone too far down the dark path to ever return, and given what Obi-Wan saw Anakin do in RotS, it's easy to see why. Yet Luke is able to see and know that even a monster like Vader has a chance to redeem himself.
Aside from the movies, this trait of Luke's comes through pretty much perfectly at several points in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. It also showed up, surprisingly, in EA's Battlefront 2 game here, where Luke saves an Imperial from some giant space bugs right after killing the guy's squadmates. When the Imperial incredulously asks "Why'd you help me?", Luke just looks at him and says, "Because you asked."
Now, in light of this, what we see in The Last Jedi about what went on between Luke and Ben Solo makes no sense. The Luke Skywalker we see there, who has a powerful premonition of the darkness and evil growing in his nephew, and is affected in such a way as to pull a lightsaber on him, to even consider killing him to preempt an evil future? That has nothing to do with the Luke Skywalker we saw in Return of the Jedi. What would have made sense is the exact opposite of what we got. Suppose what we had instead was that Luke sees Ben's moral corruption or vulnerability (by whatever means) and chooses not to take action, or enough action, against it. Suppose he keeps seeing warning signs and turns a blind eye to them, or underestimates their seriousness, always reminding himself that he can feel the good in Ben Solo, always falling back on his faith that Ben will make the right choice because, after all, even Darth Vader was able to do so after a lifetime of crimes and atrocities. So then, when Ben actually turns to the dark side, that would be what destroys Luke's confidence in the Jedi way and drives him into exile; he was so confident of the good in his nephew that he failed to take seriously the possibility that Ben might still choose evil anyway.
But, obviously, that isn't what we got. Taken in isolation, I liked some of the other things to do with Luke. His Force Projection gambit at the end, I thought that was clever. The moment where he sees a vision of the twin suns of his home world before he becomes one with the Force, that was kinda beautiful. And again, him being despondently in exile and the heroes needing to restore his faith (as it were), that basic premise was a good one. The devil's in the details.
I have very little to say about what they did with Leia because they hardly did anything with her so far in these movies. She's thoroughly wasted in The Last Jedi. One of the only things that she could have done in that train-wreck of a plot was to butt heads with Poe Dameron like she does early in the film, but then they put her in a coma for most of it and give that role to... How does Poe introduce her? "You mean Admiral Holdo? The Admiral Holdo, who led the Resistance fleet to victory in the Battle of Wikkit Gate? Of course I know who she is! Everyone does!" Everyone but the audience, but too damn bad for them, I guess.
I feel I've given you far too much to read already, but to sum it up... There's something very ironic about how Episode 7, and to a slightly lesser extent all these new Star Wars movies, are so gluttonous for moments of sterile, shoehorned-in nostalgia. I think of all those moments. Finn bumping into the Falcon's holochess board and turning it on in the middle of a conversation. Han and Rey bantering about how many bloody parsecs he made the Kessel run in. R2-D2 replaying Leia's message from ANH to Luke. Jyn and Cassian in Jedha City, bumping into those two guys who're going to hassle Luke in Mos Eisley Cantina, and the freaking guy even drops the exact same line. Poe Dameron flying down a trench in Starkiller Base to get to the oscillator.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. All those bloody moments that took people, or took me, anyway, out of the experience of watching these movies, because they're so bloody self-conscious about being Star Wars, all for the sake of nostalgia. And yet they wasted the opportunity they had for the most obvious nostalgia thing of all, which would have been to bring the Big Three back together as a team to help fight the bad guys, or even just to celebrate their victory at the trilogy's end. That's what sucked about killing off Han in The Force Awakens, and to me it further underscores how terribly unplanned this trilogy was, and how badly disconnected its parts are from each other.
Roughly speaking, you can put me in the camp that prefers what the old EU did with the Big Three. It had plenty of its problems. I honestly never got really invested in the stories about their kids - Jacen and Jaina and the rest. The post-RotJ timeline got really bloated, and to its detriment could never bring itself to move on from these characters. They ostensibly wanted to make a fresh start with the Legacy comics, set a century later, but then it still comes down to some Skywalker and his Big Damn Jedi Destiny. But warts and all, I'd take the old EU. Among the cornballs and hacks who brought us things like Darksaber, Legacy of the Force, The Jedi Prince, and everything by Karen Traviss, you also had at least a handful of authors who really got these characters, and had enough sense to actually develop them.
That's all I've got. Tangentially, I'm still gonna watch Episode IX, but purely for the spectacle, and I think it'll be the last new Star Wars movie that I'll bother to see.