I am the least likely person to write an article like this. Why? The Yuzzhan Vong were the villains of the New Jedi Order series and, to put it mildly, I’m not a fan. Oh, it has its moments, it has its high points and those it does very well, but it’s still nowhere near enough to move me to the “fan” column. So why on earth write it? Because of what happened after New Jedi Order….
New Jedi Order concluded with The Unifying Force in November 2003, one of the major things that did was draw a distinction in the Vong. On the one hand there were the psychopathic, sadomasochistic evangelical Warrior Vong and then there were the Shamed Ones. These Vong were the ones the biotechnological implants and enhancements used by warrior and scientist Vong did not work on, thus they were despised and deemed only fit for slavery. The Unifying Force also posited that it was being cut off from the Force that so warped the Vong on a collective level, so that connection is restored. To some, this is then the redemption of the Vong, but for me, it’s rather instead merely opening the door to it for them.
Jump forward to 2006 and Dark Horse Comics announces, to much controversy, it’s Star Wars: Legacy title, which will be set just over a century after The Unifying Force. In the history created for the story, the Vong, having come to understand how their predecessors caused so much devastation and death, offer to heal the worlds afflicted. It is an offering of atonement that the Sith take advantage of to ignite a galactic conflict. They are able to do this because both the Jedi and the Galactic Alliance vouch for the Vong’s offering and are blamed along with them when things go wrong.
This is, quite simply, a masterstroke. We go from the Vong having the door opened to redemption and atonement, to them understanding why they should seek it and then offering something they think will get them closer to it! It would have taken a great deal of time to deconstruct the Vong’s old outlook and perspective. It would have taken time for them to adjust to the notion of freedom and understand the moral responsibilities that come with it. And, once that is adjusted to and understood, the legacy of their predecessors can be faced….Star Wars: Legacy posits that it all took a few decades to do, which is very plausible indeed.
So we have the Vong becoming far more than they ever were previously. We have the Jedi backing their offering, which aligns well with the Jedi belief in atonement and redemption for previous failings. We have a government that supports the Jedi in this – given the direction taken in recent years in the late post-Episode VI Expanded Universe, this now looks utterly revolutionary! And they all pay a heavy price indeed, as a vengeful galaxy, manipulated by the Sith, give into their inner demons rather than their angels.
Jump forward to 2009 and Star Wars: Invasion is announced. Though this series met with a mixed reception, one thing that was generally agreed on was that having visuals for the Vong was very good. One of the weaknesses in the series was a difficulty in envisaging Vong tech, so having some visual versions of that gave the core series a boost.
Jump forward to 2012 and Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill was published. This did two unexpected things with the Vong – it had one as a member of the Wraiths unit, used on covert ops, which in turn permitted use of Vong biotechnology. Second, it had flashback chapters to an operation one of the characters ran during the invasion. And those sections were utterly superb.
I have yet to understand why, having stubbornly stuck to their guns over New Jedi Order, having stuck with it across 5 years and nearly 20 books, Del Rey then went: Hey, you know what? No one wants the Vong so let’s get rid of them! This seems blind to where they ended up. Did people want more of the psychopathic, sadomasochistic evangelical Vong? No, I’m quite certain that was not wanted but was that all they were by the end of the story? Also no! And all those fascinating potential possibilities were simply shut down! It took a comic series to do what Del Rey shrank from doing – reviving the Vong but in new and very different form, yet built on what came before.
By 2009, there was some interest in a return to the mad, bad Vong – which is why there was so much interest in Invasion when it was announced. X-Wing: Mercy Kill followed in its footsteps. But didn’t people hate the Vong? While the New Jedi Order was in flow and the final outcome unknown, that was certainly the case, but now? Now the story is done and the overall shape known for over a decade, it will obviously be seen differently. Certainly, for me, the flashbacks made the case for, at the very least, a Tales of the NJO anthology. Unfortunately, these are no longer done either – though the Lost Tribe of the Sith Omnibus is a rare exception.
For all that Star Wars sells itself as a story of redemption, with Anakin Skywalker finally coming good and killing the Emperor – though, for me, he took his time as Luke was being done extra crispy – it is rarely interested in how redemption or atonement may be done. It’s as if there is a preference to simply move a being or indeed an entire species from the “Bad” to the “Good” column and think no more on it. For me this is a profound mistake and an utterly wrong direction. Having opened the door to the Vong’s rehabilitation, I want to see more of that process and follow it through to the end. What end might that be? Ultimately it would be the Vong, as members of the Galactic Alliance, accepted by the galaxy that once reviled them, in part due to their healing numerous worlds successfully and sought no reward for doing so. It is, all in all, probably unlikely, but maybe the recent Legacy Volume II will be radical enough to attempt it, if it but has the time afforded it to do so…..