Thursday, August 19, 2010

3650 BBY: Fatal Alliance


When the Star Wars Chronology Project is complete, which will hopefully be in the time I’ve given myself, I’m going to turn my energies to writing a Star Wars novel. I’ve already mapped out its basic premise, have drawn up most of the characters, and have developed its introduction, climax, and resolution. When it’s complete my expectation will not be to publish it, though that would be nice. Like the SWCP it’ll be enough for me to have finished it, and to have finished it well.

If, in the execution of this little endeavor, I can write as well as Sean Williams, I will be successful. Fatal Alliance was one of the most enjoyable Star Wars books I have ever read. Williams, the writer of a plethora of short stories and novels, and winner of respected sci-fi writing awards, is a professional writer in every sense of the word. His prose was excellent, his dialogue superb, and his style was easy to read. There was necessarily nothing poetic about Williams’ prose, but it didn’t need to be, and I don’t mean that as a slight. If Williams wanted to be poetic, I think he could. I sometimes think writers use poetic writing to cover their ineffectual abilities as a writer (which I think is a weakness, among others, of my own writing). Williams’ writing is efficient with nothing out of place. I never once stumbled on his description of people, places, or events; I never once thought that any of his characters did or said anything out of character; I never once thought ‘I can do a better job than this guy’. The entire story made sense, from beginning to end.

To summarize what I’m trying to say, Sean Williams is an excellent writer. I highly recommend reading Fatal Alliance, you’ll not be disappointed.

For such an enjoyable read I surprising have only a few things to comment on. The first aspect of Fatal Alliance I want to talk about is the character of Satele Shan, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order. I also want to comment on some bits of descriptive wording I greatly enjoyed, some of the observations made by Dao Stryver the Mandalorian bounty hunter, and Jet Nebula the smuggler, and finally Darth Chratis’ equipment.

We are first introduced to Satele Shan in the pages of the web-comic Threat of Peace. From a chronological perspective that bit of Star Wars history takes place three years prior to the events of this novel, and in that source, she is not even yet a Jedi Master, which makes me wonder how she went from Knight to Grand Master in three years. What I didn’t know was that the title of Grand Master has been in place in Star Wars history for a while, and that the title of Grand Master is different from the title of Master of the Order – yet another title I was unfamiliar with. Grand Master denotes the Jedi who is the head of all Jedi in the galaxy. Master of the Order denotes the Jedi who is the head of the Jedi high council. They may be the same person, or two different people.

Prior to Satele Shan, the Grand Master was Zym, the Kel Dor Jedi who was killed by the bounty hunter Braden – yet another reason why I thought Threat of Peace fell short. Since when can a bounty hunter simply ‘shoot’ a Jedi Grand Master and kill him? That bit of history only came about to keep the plot moving forward, and ignored even the logical sense or boundaries of realism in its own Star Wars universe. Chestney and the other writers at Bioware were playing a little fast-and-loose with what a Jedi Grand Master should be capable of.

Satele Shan seems rather young to be a Grand Master, but with that being said she seems to have aged rather quickly since last we encountered her. She is now streaked with grey in her hair, and from her characterization on The Old Republic webpage, seems a little older and wiser. There is nothing in Star Wars history as of yet to explain how she attained the rank, simply that she is a “veteran warrior” and has been “tested by the darkside” on many occasions. I’m sure, given time and knowing the nature of Star Wars literature that loves to backfill stories, we’ll know all about how Satele Shan became the Grand Master of the Jedi Order soon enough.

Moving on to some of the description and dialogue I found of interest in Fatal Alliance, I want to highlight parts of the book I enjoyed most. One of my favorite scenes in Fatal Alliance was of Shigar Konshi attempting to rescue his Master Satele Shan for certain death: “He was standing practically naked on the hull of a smuggler’s ship, surrounded by killer droids and wreaked ships, with the galaxy’s brilliant spiral to one side and the jets of a black hole to the other. He couldn’t tell if what he felt was joy or terror.” (259). It’s this type of descriptive writing which I enjoyed. While I was reading this, I think I pictured exactly what Williams wanted me to see, and I was awed by the scene itself. What is more, this scene revealed something of Shigar Konshi’s character – a Padawan who is brash yet terrified at the same time.

Two other characters I highly enjoyed were Dao Stryver and Jet Nebula – the bounty hunter and the smuggler – mortal enemies and two sides of the same coin. What I enjoyed about William’s writing here is that these characters have dialogue which mirrors each other. Not exactly, mind you, but both have a similar world view even though they themselves are on opposite side of the spectrum.

Leave it to a Mandalorian to hit the nail on the head with regards to the Sith and their recruitment practices. As the story goes on, Dao Stryver rightly points out how the conflict began. Speaking of Eldon Ax, Stryver says: “That, after all, was where all this started, with militarized religious cults turning children into monsters.” (275). It was this stripping down of everything and revealing the truth of the matter to Ax which I found brutal and honest – the words militarized religious cults – jumped out at me. This, indeed, is exactly what the Sith do: steal children, kill their parents, and then train them in the darkside of the force, only to then release pathologic monsters on the universe. Dao Stryver, and Sean Williams, couldn’t be more correct.

Even Jet Nebula, the smuggler with a heart of gold, holds cynical views of the Jedi and the Sith. As he says to Ula Vii, an Imperial spy, regarding the nature of both Force users: “No, but the principle still holds. (The Republic and the Empire both have) Similar hierarchies, with a dominant high priest caste; similar in beliefs but different practices; competing over the same territory -“ (355). Like the words militarized religious cults spoken by Dao Stryver, the words which jumped out at me here were dominant high priest caste. Again, Jet Nebula and Seam Williams hit the nail on the head here.

The similarity in dialogue and worldview between Dao Stryver and Jet Nebula remind me of two characters from my favorite movie of all time: William Munny (Clint Eastwood) and Bill Dagget (Gene Hackman) from Unforgiven. In Unforgiven, like in Fatal Alliance, these characters are Grey – neither whole evil, nor wholly good, but both capable of highly evil or good acts. The similarity in dialogue I’m referring to in Unforgiven is when both Eastwood and Hackman meet the writer for the first time. When Dagget meets English Bob’s biographer, and the biographer says to Dagget that he’s a writer, Dagget seeks clarification: “What, letters an’ such?”. In the final scene of the film, after William Munny has killed everyone in the bar, he comes across the writer, un-burring himself from dead bodies which have fallen on him. The writer begs Munny not to shoot, explaining that he’s : “Just a writer”. Munny asks him: “What, of letters an’ such?”. Both characters in this movie, both mortal enemies, each one side of the same coin, are each reacting in the same manner to the same thing. Dao Stryver and Jet Nebula, are two sides of the same coin. The epilogue of Fatal Alliance between these two characters was the best part of the entire novel.

My final point of note is only a small observation, but a little element of the story I enjoyed: Darth Chratis’ lightsaber. Extending from a long cane, Darth Chratis’ lightsaber blade is longer than usual. I imagine his lightsaber to be more like a long two-handed sword, or some like a Scottish claymore minus the cross hilt. It made dueling against on the part of Shigar Konshi very difficult.

For my next post I’ll be engaging with the new Star Wars MMO The Old Republic, and reflecting on my experiences with MMOs in general. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

5 comments:

  1. Leland Chee has confirmed that Fatal Alliance takes place more than 3 years after Threat of Peace. The erroneous 3650 date comes from the timeline in the front of the novels, but as Chee has clarified, that's just a benchmark date to say the general era in which the novel takes place. We don't yet know exactly when to date it, since the Bioware developers for the game haven't yet said when exactly the game takes place. All we know is that Williams has said the novel takes place shortly before the game, but that could be anywhere from a couple years to decades after Threat of Peace.

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  2. Having Fatal Alliance take place more than three years (perhaps even decades after) the Treaty of Coruscant makes a little more sense. Satele Shan's promotion from Knight to Grand Master in three years seems a little extreme. Where then did Joe get his date of 3626?

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  3. I think that was one of the dates that the developers have said is a possibility for the game's setting. Joe may have used it simply as a placeholder until we are given a definite date (probably when the game is finally released).

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  4. I remember reading/watching somewhere that the difference between the Jedi and the Sith is that for the Jedi power is a means to an end, but for the Sith power is an end in itself.
    On another note according to wookiepedia Fatal Alliance takes place a decade after Threat Of Peace

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    1. I think this idea was mentioned in Dan Wallace's Jedi Path (pg 25?), but it's an idea replete all over Star Wars literature. It's a good summation of the difference between the light and dark side.

      A decade later makes more sense.

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