Sunday, March 18, 2012

32 BBY: A Summer's Dream

After reading A Summer’s Dream, I had to go back to Attack of the Clones and rewatch the love scenes between Anakin and Padme (which was a little painful).  In one of these scenes Padme mentions to Anakin an artist she used to date, Palo, with dark curly hair, whose mention makes Anakin a little jealous.  I think in the entire love sequence between Anakin and Padme on Naboo this exchange about Amidala’s past love was the most honest.  I know I never liked it when my current girlfriend talked about her ex, but then again, who does?  So I identified with Anakin’s jealousy a little, as I think we’re all a little jealous of our partner’s past.   In A Summer’s Dream I thought we were being provided the backstory of Palo, and how he and Amidala came to be young lovers.  But it turns out that the boy in A Summer’s Dream is not Palo at all, but a red-headed boy named Ian, son to the disgraced King Veruna’s foremost advisor.
A Summer’s Dream, by Terry Moore, was a great tale because it flushed out the character of Padme Amidala a little more.  Of course there was more than Palo in Amidala’s past – she’s a beautiful girl mature beyond her years, Queen of a planet, both wise and intelligent.  We can also read into why she never mentioned him to Anakin on those grassy knolls of Naboo.  Firstly, the most obvious answer is Lucas did not conceive of this storyline, therefore, Ian does not exist with Lucas’ Amidala.  But if we play the game that all Star Wars is one canon, then Amidala’s omission of Ian to Anakin is interesting.  It could be that a few kisses with a boy at sunset before she was Queen really did not mean much to her.  Maybe she was simply infatuated with Ian’s infatuation with her, so she played along not minding a few kisses here and there.  But maybe she really did have feelings for the boy, and after Anakin’s obvious reaction to the mention of Palo, decided to stay mum about Ian, and senator Clovis for that matter.  Anakin was shocked to discover there was more than a “friendship” between his wife and the senator from Scipio.  Interesting indeed.  I wonder if the list of Amidala’s lovers will grow with time, or stay at 3.  Who knows, she may one day rival Obi-Wan Kenobi for list of lovers left with a broken heart.

As it is, the tale ends with Ian leaving Naboo just before Amidala’s coronation, tears in his eyes and broken hearted.

Beyond the love story between Padme and Ian, another aspect of this story I found interesting was the mention of Padme’s “special abilities”:
“Instead, Amidala talked about her home and family in the mountains and how she ended up in Theed when her special abilities were discovered”

What “special abilities” are being referenced here?  Are we talking about some Force abilities, or simply her uncanny ability to lead or otherwise be an effective monarch and politician?  Maybe some of you reading can fill me in on what was meant by “special abilities”, if anything at all.

For my next post I’ll be taking a look at The Starfighter Trap, by Steve Miller.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

32 BBY: Queen in Disguise

Monica Kulling’s Queen in Disguise was much better than I anticipated.  What pleasantly surprised me about the book was that the story was original, and not another re-telling of The Phantom Menace.

It’s a very short tale.  Captain Panaka explains to the Queen that her handmaidens are more than simple attendants who take care of her hair and fashion, that in fact, they are a trained security force qualified to protect her should trouble arise.  The Queen tells Panaka that she too wants to be trained like the handmaiden’s, and then goes undercover in the guise of a new recruit into the handmaiden’s ranks.
While undergoing training against some droids, the Queen gets to demonstrate that she is more than a young monarch.  The tale ends with Padme rescuing one of the handmaidens from danger, and reveals to her attendants that she is the Queen, but even more importantly, that she can handle herself should the going get tough.

The best aspect of Queen in Disguise, however, was the art.  John Alvin’s illustrations were worth the price of admission.  His watercolour work is brilliant.  But more importantly, my 4-year-old son enjoyed the story, and it has now become one of the regular books I read to him before bed. 
For my next post I’ll be taking a look at Tales #5: A Summer’s Dream.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

32 BBY: Shadows of Coruscant

Shadows of Coruscant, an RPG adventure from Wizards of the Coast taken from WoTC’s first edition of the RPG Core Rulebook, details for us Star Wars historians some of the events that took place on Coruscant after the rumors of corruption began to swirl around the Chancellor of the Republic, Finis Valorum.  It seems that once the Chancellor returned from the taxation summit on Eridu all hell broke loose.
Though the threat of foreign terrorism in the form of the Nebula Front has been all but quelled during this period in history, it seems there is no shortage of domestic terrorists willing to take the fight to the Republic.  In Shadows of Coruscant, the terrorists in question are a group from Coruscant who call themselves The FLAIL.  They are led by a “former Jedi” named Zegmon Pent whose Jedi heritage is held in question by any player character who is a Jedi. The best bit about this villain the player characters must face is his “lightsaber”:

“Several months ago, Zegmon Pent stole an imitation lightsaber from a technician who had constructed it as an experiment.  The blade functioned more or less as a real lightsaber, but was somewhat weaker and could not withstand energy surges like a real lightsaber.  In other words, it could not be used to deflect blaster bolts and would actually shut down if its blade came into contact with a real lightsaber blade…he uses it mostly for intimidation purposes” (306).
It seems this “Jedi” had a placed a “Jedi mind trick” on his followers, as they lived in fear of the Jedi-turned-freedom-fighter.  What I did find somewhat sympathetic about this character was that he really did believe Valorum was a corrupt Chancellor, and though misguided, only wanted what was best for the Republic.  Pent’s genuine motivation was the removal of a dishonest public official from public office:

“Zegmon Pent’s plans have started to crumble around him, leaving him with only two options: kill Chancellor Valorum or kill Valorum’s supporters.  Either way, Valorum will no longer be Supreme Chancellor, and – as far as Pent is concerned – the central figure in the Senate’s corruption will be gone” (306).
The adventure itself is fairly simple.  FLAIL has vowed to kill the Chancellor and disband the Senate because they believe (and rightly, though perhaps a little early) it has fallen under the control of corporate interests and the Republic no longer belongs to the people:   

“The ‘Flail Manifesto’ indicates that he group believes the Senate is corrupt, that it is secretly manipulated by corporate concerns to benefit specific corporations at the expense of the common sentient” (301)
In response to FLAIL’s threats, Valorum has enlisted the help of some intrepid heroes to put a stop to the terrorist group.   The heroes also get to meet Mace Windu in this adventure, as it is the Jedi Master who debriefs the heroes on their mission objectives.  The adventure ends with the heroes foiling an assassination attempt on the Chancellor before he delivers a speech in front of a large crowd.

Hopefully by the end of the journey the heroes have saved the day with a minimal amount of casualties (there are at least two sections in the adventure that allow the heroes to re-roll and enter a new character into the story in case one of the player characters has died).  To be honest, as a starting adventure it seemed it could be rather challenging. 
One other interesting tid-bit of information I thought rather amusing:  In Chancellor Valorum’s stats he’s equipped with a hold-out blaster, which I found somewhat strange.  Since when is the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic armed?  Also, he SPEAKS, fluent Shyriiwook – an ability I thought only reserved for Wookiees.

As it is, Shadows of Coruscant is a great RPG adventure that introduces this time period to new players.  And I’d like to know from any players who may have played through this adventure to share their experience with me in the comments section underneath.  It’s one thing to read through an RPG adventure, and another thing to play through an RPG adventure.  What characters did you and your fellow players role-play?  Did anyone die?  Did your group, in fact, save the day?  I’d love to know.
For my next post I’m going to take a look at Monica Kulling’s children’s story Queen in Disguise.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

32 BBY: Cloak of Deception

I know in my last post I said I would start with Queen in Disguise, then move on to Shadows of Coruscant, and finish with Cloak of Deception, but after reading all three texts I’ve decided to alter the order for two main reasons, both of which have to do with events in Cloak of Deception.  At the end of Cloak of Deception two main plot points which have a bearing on the following sources are established.  Firstly, at the end of Luceno’s novel Padme Amidala is newly established as the ruler of Naboo.  In Queen in Disguise we meet a Padme who seems to be already established as Queen, as part of the plot has her going undercover with her handmaidens, and we’ve given the impression that she’s been Queen for a while – not a long while, but for some time.  Secondly, in Shadows of Coruscant, we are told at the beginning of the RPG adventure that Valorum is mired in corruption charges – charges which are well established (though not alluded to in the RPG source) in Cloak of Deception.  Not only that, but there is a terrorist group gunning for the Chancellor’s head, and there is the general feeling in Shadows of Coruscant that the Republic is more unstable than usual, which can be chronologically explained by the events in Cloak of Deception.  So in case you were wondering, that is why I’ve decided to go Cloak of Deception now.
Cloak of Deception by James Luceno was a Star Wars novel I had trouble getting into.  I didn’t dislike the book, but for some reason I found it boring.  Even though it was about my favorite Star Wars character, Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious, it took me forever to get through. 

I’ve thought a little bit about why I feel this way.  It’s not that I think Luceno is a poor writer – he’s not, and the story was exciting enough – Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan chasing a space pirate and trying to stop the assassination of Chancellor Valorum – all fun stuff indeed.  But I guess I’d say the novel’s political intrigue was not very intriguing.  I suppose it’s difficult to get excited about a story when I already knew how it will end.  I already knew Valorum wouldn’t get shot, and I already knew Palpatine was puppetering the events, points of plot I understand are difficult to get around while writing in this particular timeframe of Star Wars history. 
Yet, with my complaints of boredom aside the novel did have high points for me, and it’s the high points I want to focus on.

One of the most fun aspects of this book were the many references Luceno made to other Star Wars works.  The first one I came across was a reference to King Veruna of Naboo.  Veruna, a character originally from Dan Wallace’s short story The Monster, is the monarch of Naboo who prior to the events of the invasion of Naboo found himself embroiled in a “scandal” – the nature of which is never directly revealed.  In Wallace’s The Monster, the most revealing information we find about King Veruna is that he may have “records concerning corruption at the highest levels of government”.  Namely, Veruna may have discovered a link between Palpatine and his alter-ego Darth Sidious.  At the end of The Monster, Pestage, Palpatine’s right hand man, removed some important evidence from a cave found by Lieutenant Panaka – much to the Lieutenant’s irritation.  In Cloak of Deception, we are told by Palpatine:

“Sadly, King Veruna finds himself enmeshed in a scandal.  While he and I have never seen eye to eye with regards to expanding Naboo’s influence in the Republic, I am concerned for him, for his predicament has not only cast a pall over Naboo, but also over many neighbouring worlds” (59).
The narrative I think being woven together here is that in retaliation for connecting some dots he shouldn’t have, Darth Sidious has set up King Veruna for a fall, much like he does to Chancellor Velorum at the end of Cloak of Deception. 

Continuing with the idea of Luceno making references to other author’s works, Dan Wallace wasn’t the only Star Wars scribe Luceno referenced in Cloak of Deception.  My head nearly exploded when Tim Zahn’s Jorus C’baoth entered the novel.  Waiting to receive their next mission outside of the Jedi Council chambers, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were discussing amongst themselves the location of Eriadu as the location for the taxation summit when the enigmatic Master disrupted their musings:

“They turned to find Jorus C’baoth watching them.  An elder human Jedi Master, C’baoth had a chiseled face, white hair as long as Qui-Gon’s and a beard three times as long” (152).
I think while I was reading this small passage containing C’baoth’s appearance my jaw was slacked the entire time.  I really did not see this coming.  But when I began to think about it, and tried to remember what I remember about the Thrawn trilogy, C’baoth’s appeared makes sense.  Of course he was around at this time.  Seeing his name in print in a Star Wars novel make me feel very nostalgic, and did make me want to revisit the Thrawn trilogy again, but I resisted the urge (I was going to flip through my graphic novel versions).  I want to re-engage with those texts in the proper context of the Star Wars Chronology Project.  Needless to say, I thought coming across Jorus C’baoth was totally awesome.

Another great reference to other Star Wars works was Luceno’s mention of Yaddle’s past from the story The One Below, written by Dean Motter.   The One Below is one of my favorite Star Wars Tales comics, as in my write-up on that particular text I called Yaddle an enlightened Buddha.  I also thought it neat that Luceno gave us Yaddle’s age:

“It was not the first time in her 476 years that the tiny Jedi had been imprisoned.  According to legend, she had ascended to the rank of Master as a result of having spent more than a hundred years in an underground prison on Korba” (187).
If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was Master Yoda who was reluctant to bestow upon Yaddle the rank of Knight upon her re-entry into the Jedi Order.  Yet after Evan Piell re-told Yaddle’s story to the Jedi Council, they all agreed that she should be recognized beyond Knighthood and be honoured with the title of Master. 

Moving on in my reactions, as I’ve mentioned in my blog before, Darth Sidious is my favorite Star Wars character, and Luceno did an amazing job with his characterization in this novel.  Luceno’s introduction of Palpatine/Sidious to the story is fantastic:

“Southern light, polarized by the transparisteel panels, flooded the room.  But Valorum’s sole guest had taken a seat well out of the light’s reach.  ‘I fear, Supreme Chancellor, that we face a monumental challenge,’ Senator Palpatine was saying from the shadows” (54).
My favorite bit here isn’t the fact that Palpatine is lurking in the darkness, even though that’s totally appropriate, it’s his first words in the novel ‘I fear’.  Yes.  That is what a Dark Lord of the Sith does best: fear.

A further example of the accurate characterization of Palpatine on the part of Luceno was the dark Lord’s mention of “adjustments”.  I said back in my post on Jedi Council: Acts of War how I admired Palpatine’s ability to twist any negative into a positive.  He has an uncanny ability to be the first in the room to react to uncertainty. He says as much to his apprentice Darth Maul in Saboteur: ““…But there is also the unforeseen. The power of the darkside is limitless, but only to those who accept uncertainty. This means being able to concede to possibilities”.  Palpatine echoes this refrain in Cloak of Deception:

“Palpatine’s seeming good humor didn’t falter.  ‘One must make adjustments as necessary.  Despite assiduous planning, not everything can be foreseen’” (251).
Before I break down my reactions to this line, I love the way Luceno uses language here, notably the words ‘assiduous planning’, which sounds a lot like ‘Sidious Planning’.  But I digress.  Again, referencing my post on Jedi Council: Acts of War, I talked about Palpatine’s ability to adjust to the unforeseen in relation to his final confrontation with Mace Windu in Revenge of the Sith. I think these lines, the one from Saboteur mentioned earlier and this one from Cloak of Deception holds the key to understanding Windu and Palpatine’s final confrontation in ROTS. Here’s what I said in that post in regards to Palpatine’s ability to be the first to adjust to the unforeseen:

“When Windu entered to arrest the Chancellor, Palpatine had already won, not because it was fate, or because he had so puppeteered events to this conclusion (and if you think this is the case it robs the scene of all its Tragedy), but because after their sabers clashed the following moments were ABSOLUTLY UNCERTAIN. Palpatine orchestrated his rise on uncertainty – he was simply able to adjust to uncertainty, and work it to his advantage, quicker than anyone else in the room. Make no mistake – Windu defeated Sidious in their lightsaber duel – Sidious did not let him win, and it wasn’t like Sidious didn’t want to kill Windu when they fought. But what Windu and the Jedi weren’t able to cope with was Sidious’ ability to “accept uncertainty”. If Sidious defeated Windu and killed him he could still turn to Anakin and claim the Jedi have no moral code – “Look” Palpatine could claim as he turns to Anakin “Where was Windu’s Jedi teaching when he was trying to kill me? They’re all corrupt Anakin – they have all lied to you! I offer you the truth the Jedi don’t want you to know…the power of the darkside…its ability to help those you love, even save them from death”… and Anakin turns. Or, Sidious is defeated by Windu, and falls to a position of genuine weakness (this is why this scene is so good, because it is here the good guys do have an actual chance to win!); he is still able to claim “Look Anakin! They’re morally bankrupt! They’re attempting to usurp the power of the Republic and lead for themselves!  Help me and I can help you save the one you love!”…and Anakin turns.”
This line from Cloak of Deception I think further supports the idea that Palpatine’s greatest strength, beyond his ability to see four or five moves ahead of all his enemies, is his ability to react to his enemies moves he does not see coming.

Darth Sidious’ best line came at the end of the novel in a bit of dramatic irony.  Reveling in his recent victory, he warns the Nemodians of the tricky senator from Naboo:

“Sidious nodded.  ‘Senator Palpatine is adept at dissembling his real nature.  You scarcely realize how much damage he has already caused’” (343).
Love it!

My final topic of discussion has to do with the Jedi and the Sith.  Up until this point in the Star Wars Chronology Project, I don’t remember coming across an actual figure for the amount of Jedi present in the Order at any given time in history.  There may have been a number given at some point in one of the sources I’ve examined, but as I write this post I’m drawing a blank.  I mention this because Luceno gives us the number of the Jedi Order in 32 BBY as approximately 10,000:

“Ten thousand strong, their collective strength was such that they could rule the Republic if they so wished – if their dedication to peace was any less demonstrably earnest” (160).
I was simultaneously impressed by the largeness of this number and the meagreness of this number.  Ten thousand Jedi is indeed many Jedi, but when taken into consideration alongside the population of the galaxy, one realizes how rare a Jedi actually is.  But really, 10,000 Jedi do not seem like a lot, and I wonder at how much of the Republic’s taxation budget is actually spent on the Jedi order.  In the grand scheme of things, The Jedi Order must only take at most 1% of the Republic’s operations budget, considering at this point in history the Republic does not have a standing military.  Even if 10% of the Republic’s budget went to the Jedi Order, I’d say that such a price is still cheap, considering the service they provide.  A standing army (like the one imposed by Emperor Palpatine ten years in the future) could cost anywhere between 15-30 % of the Republic’s operation budget.  10,000 Jedi, even if they are being purposefully wasteful, could not really make a dent in the Republic’s annual spending – fancy starships and all.

As it is, shortly after this information is provided, there is mention of a Jedi and Sith conflict 2000 years in the past.  I wonder was Luceno making reference to Darth Ruin here:

“Two thousand years earlier, the Jedi had faced a menacing threat to continuing peace, in the form of the Sith Lords and their armies of dark-side apprentices.  Founded by a fallen Jedi, the Sith believed that power disavowed was power squandered.  In place of justice for all, they sought single-minded authority” (161).
From a Chronological perspective there is no primary source that elucidates the events of 2000 years before 32 BBY, but there are a bunch of secondary sources which reference this point in history.  Drew Karpyshyn’s article “Heritage of the Sith” from Star Wars insider #88 talks about the New Sith Empire founded by Ruin, which is what I think Luceno is making reference to here.  This “New Sith Empire” probably replaces the fallen Sith Empire of the Sith Emperor and the events of The Old Republic.  There are other secondary sources which talk about this period too:  The New Essential Chronology and Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force, to name a few.  But as I said, there is no primary source which takes us through the “menacing threat to continuing peace the Jedi had to face”.    

For my next post I’m going to take a look at the RPG source Shadows of Coruscant, and then the children’s book Queen in Disguise.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.