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Star Wars and Genre: Mystery

Yeah, Sherlock Holmes would be the iconic image to use here . . . but hardboiled detective stories always get so much cooler covers

The term “genre” generally suggests a creative niche — a specific type of art that is for some people, but not for everyone. Science fiction and fantasy, horror, romance — they’re all seen as being for specific audiences, not broad-spectrum stories with universal appeal. Mystery, on the other hand, is a wildly popular genre. From Sherlock Holmes to CSI, mysteries are among the most well-known, widely consumed, and, to a lesser extent, acclaimed books, TV shows, and films out there. It seems like it would make sense to fuse Star Wars with such a booming genre, wouldn’t it? Heck, how could Star Wars escape dipping into such a prolific and fundamental genre now and then?

It’s easy to understand how mysteries can be so popular. The genre is based around the investigation of some type of mystery, usually a crime, creating a clear narrative and providing ample avenues for conflict, suspense, action, and revelation. Mystery provides all the fundamentals of a thrilling story in a neat package.

As with any mammoth genre, there are countless varieties of mystery story. Some are focused on creating complex puzzles for their heroes, and implicitly the reader, to solve, as in the classic locked-room murder. Others, in a trend started by hard-boiled detective fiction, are less interested in the intricacy of their solution, and emphasize the action and atmosphere of a criminal case. A mystery may save its solution until the last moment, or give away the perpetrator early in order to focus the story not on the answer, but on the protagonist’s pursuit of the truth and/or the suspect. Some follow police investigators, some private eyes, some lawyers, some ordinary civilians sucked into a case. And that’s barely getting into the variety of forms and tones mysteries can take. Some of these forms may be more easily adaptable to Star Wars than others, but all are worth thinking about in this context.

Of course, there are many Star Wars stories that have revolved around some kind of mystery — so many stories of all kinds do. If I started listing all the stories with some kind of mystery element, I could start with the Thrawn trilogy’s Delta Source and keep going all night.

So instead, I’ll simply state that I think this is something that could be played up even more. When information simply drops into characters’ laps, or disseminates instantaneously without effort, it’s boring. When they have to work to discover something, when there is an actual process of investigation, it better exploits the story potential of any mystery, and adds excitement to the process. To pass over the mystery aspect ignores the narrative potential of one type of drama — the investigation — in favor of solely focusing on action sequences and getting to that drama faster. Variety is the spice of life, not twenty-four lightsaber fights one after another.

Obi-Wan as detective: the best part of Episode II

There are some Star Wars stories that have been entirely structured as mysteries, though fewer than you might think. It’s worth noting that a significant chunk of Attack of the Clones was a mystery plotline — Obi-Wan investigated the case of Senator Amidala’s attempted assassination, in the process stumbling upon yet another enigma, the secret clone army, in classic mystery fashion.

Within the Expanded Universe, Survivor’s Quest stands out as a mystery. Not only does the question of Outbound Flight‘s fate hang over the story (to be answered not within, but via prequel), but more importantly, the story is structured as a classic closed-environment, who’s-the-killer mystery. Luke and Mara travel aboard a starship with an expedition featuring personnel from multiple factions; when sabotage starts occurring and it becomes clear that someone must be secretly undermining the mission, they must figure out who. The book is a good example of how a story need not be strictly a murder-case-style professional-detective story to function as a mystery within the Star Wars universe.

Scourge, recently, featured a Jedi investigating the death of his apprentice. Millennium Falcon used twin investigations to uncover the ship’s history, riffing on The Maltese Falcon in the process. Twilight built a mystery around the amnesiac Jedi Quinlan Vos. Star Wars mysteries are out there.

Coruscant Nights: not quite the noir this cover promised

Overall, however, stories about characters puzzling out mysteries are rare, especially as mystery elements usually take a backseat to action-adventure. Coruscant Nights was sold on the concept that it was a film noir-inspired trilogy about a Jedi on the run working as a private detective. As it turned out, there was a Jedi on the run, but he wasn’t really a private detective, and aside from the cover art, the story never bothered to be particularly noir. In one book, the protagonists were handed a murder case, but the book never truly functioned as a mystery. The story instead revolved around the characters’ other, Jedi-on-the-run/proto-Rebellion concerns, largely ignoring the murder case, until an outside character showed up at the end of the book to hand them the solution on a silver platter. Mystery plotting can be hard for authors without expertise.

Yet a few more straight Star Wars mysteries are an avenue the Expanded Universe really should pursue. Mystery is a popular genre that scads of people are willing to read. It is full of fairly talented authors who would be willing to write a tie-in for the exposure and payday. And most of all, it’s a great way to add distinct variety in the types of stories the universe is telling and sources of drama it’s using (which are growing increasingly repetitive) in a way that could avoid being a niche story type that would carry only a limited group of readers with it or not be sustainable as a significant segment of the storytelling.

Corran Horn and partner Iella Wessiri, Star Wars detectives just waiting for a story

It’s not inconceivable that a classic detective story could fit into the Star Wars setting. One of the most popular and significant figures in the EU, Corran Horn, has a past as a police detective, a setting that could draw many fans. Jedi can also be used as investigators on relatively traditional cases. Corran investigating high-profile murders or thefts as a Jedi could be just as intriguing. Ben Skywalker, trained in police techniques during his teenage years in the Galactic Alliance Guard, would likewise prove a potent protagonist in Jedi-starring detective fiction. Have him liaise with a police unit on Coruscant for a few years, getting readers invested in a larger cast of ordinary cops, and you could have the X-wing of police series on your hands. The partnership of Jedi Nejaa Halcyon and CorSec officer Rostek Horn, fighting crime on the streets of Corellia, could be great story material that would move beyond a solely Jedi-centric storyline.

And those are just existing characters with strong detective hooks; there is nothing stopping authors from writing about Luke, Jaina and Zekk, or Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan tracking down jewel thieves, assassins, or serial killers. Or from creating a comic about Han vowing to find the murderer of an old smuggling buddy in the shady depths of Nar Shaddaa, or a novel about Lando Calrissian gambling aboard a luxury spaceliner when a prominent passenger is killed and he’s caught up in the mystery. That doesn’t even touch on new characters.

A professional thief in the big (big, big, big) city. Let’s see some stories about the heroes trying to catch her.

Beyond the most recognizable traditional detection setups, there are yet more stories available. Stories about characters tracking down piracy or smuggling rings’ secretive operations and mysterious, powerful backers would revolve around the same mystery elements if the story focused on the process of acquiring and following clues. A Rebel cell figuring out which of its members is an Imperial mole could be structured as a mystery. So could the hunts for an assassin lurking on Coruscant before he strikes the Galactic Alliance’s chief of state, a saboteur threatening a Republic base, or a spy who has stolen crucial New Republic data.

The opportunities mystery stories offer the Expanded Universe are virtually endless, and the genre is in prime position to be exploited. Fewer galactic wars and more mysteries could keep the galaxy far, far away just as exciting, but with much fresher and more diverse storytelling.

Vive La Difference? Non!

Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has this killer statistic:

“contains approximately 100–400 billion stars”

At least according to its wiki page and, all things considered, there’s no reason to think that estimate is inaccurate.  Or, to put it another way, in far more succinct and famous fashion, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy has this:

“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

And it is more than likely the galaxy that is home to Star Wars is similar; even if it was a quarter of the size of the Milky Way that’s still 25 billion stars, all with planetary systems of one kind or another.

Now add in time – the Milky Way is thought to be 13.2 billion years old, the Star Wars galaxy is similar and we have stories set across 35-37 millennia! 35-37,000 years!  In but a couple of millennia civilizations of all kinds have risen and fallen, Star Wars is no different – yet you wouldn’t know it from the way its stories have been told for the last few years.

We have this wide, expansive, incredibly old yet, in galactic terms, probably still young galaxy, but Star Wars has taken a reduction route.  It’s boiled its galaxy down to a number of set patterns, with little in the way of difference being tolerated.  When something does step out of line, corrective action is taken to get it back into line and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Jedi.  You would think, logically, there would be many different Jedi orders across the centuries, with unique structures.  You would be wrong.

Despite setting up Luke Skywalker to restore the Jedi, in a way distinct from its destroyed predecessor, the Expanded Universe just can’t seem to help itself with having Luke apply terms like Padawan to the revived order in the New Jedi Order to later reviving the Jedi Council.  Why do this when those ideas were found wanting?  Because it’s got to be the same!

There are numerous accounts of why Anakin Solo had to die in the New Jedi Order, all agree on one point: the idea was that the audience would be confused by the name similarity to Anakin Skywalker! Really? Seriously? Apparently so. This does not bode well because if it is thought that the audience will be confused by similar names then what of different iterations of the Jedi, Sith and Empire?

Yet, it isn’t just in the New Jedi Order arc that this happens. Nope, for all its brilliance, the Knights of the Old Republic game went and added a Jedi Council to the Tales of the Jedi era. The comics produced 1993-1998 had the Jedi as operating more informally, with gatherings of Jedi being a rare event. Yet, a handful of decades later, there’s a Jedi Council structure in place. In all likelihood, this was done to reflect the Prequels’ structure, as it was The Phantom Menace in 1999 that showed us the Jedi Council and the KOTOR game came out 2003. Even the recent story, Dawn of the Jedi, set millennia earlier still has a Council present, it’s as if an idea present in one era must be present in all eras!

Nor is the Empire immune – as the recent The Old Republic shows – here, despite being set millennia before the films, there’s some remarkably similar aesthetics being displayed! TIE fighters? Star Destroyers? What the hell are they doing there? At least in the Legacy comics there is a clear historical continuity, with the Empire there being the one from the films roughly a century on. So, you have a reason for the designs being next generation TIEs and Star Destroyers. Featuring them much earlier just doesn’t work at all.

And the Sith…. Ah, the Sith must be feeling like a nice Single Malt whiskey that’s had a measure of ice to shot that’s about 500%! If you did this, you would end up with something little more than water, all that made it whiskey would have been diluted out! So it has become with the Sith – you want an army of red lightsaber swinging bad dudes? Easy, there’s loads of them hanging around the place – just entirely forgotten about.To be fair Legacy‘s Sith, in the comics, have a fair amount of variance, but The Old Republic? It’s an army headed by an Emperor type, KOTOR has but two Sith Lords, clearly echoing the prequels’ notion. Vader? Well, as an enforcement heavy, Darth Malak does look the part.

Yet why is this strange monomania in place at all? If it truly is due to the expectation that the audience will be confused by a lack of consistency, then Star Wars is in a dire mess. This is a world where Marvel have spun a story line across five movies, brought it to a resounding conclusion in Avengers and are now on Act 2. They didn’t do that by having low expectations of the audience. Instead they assumed a level of intelligence and that was rewarded. It’s a world where the big successful TV series are spinning labyrinthine plots, with large casts of very well-realized characters, across multiple series.

It might be said that this is an attempt to create a consistency that is familiar to the audience who have only seen the films. True, some consistency is expected, but when the story is set far earlier than the films surely the consistency expected will be more thematic than literal transplanting? Go too far from the films and the story loses that which makes it a Star Wars property, but don’t depart at all and you get a carbon copy that can surprise and intrigue no one.

Will Disney’s takeover see a change? It’s very hard to say.  My own suspicion is that, given fan response across the internet to some stories, Disney’s response will be to be more careful and conservative so there will be less room for experimentation and innovation.  Still, perhaps I’ll be mistaken and Disney does decide to really run with the property they’ve got – a story that can be told on a galactic scale across millennia!

Vergere: An Ultra-Traditionalist Jedi, A Radical Daoist Part 2

Continued from last week.

GannersLastStandOne interpretation of Daoism is that it is utterly passive, and that Daoists should make no effort to change the world. This interpretation is indeed a technically valid interpretation; the founder of Daoism, Lao-tzu, advocated severing oneself from society and becoming a hermit. However, when one considers the idea of Tian—namely, that heaven is on Earth and that it is inherently a process rather than a state—a completely opposing interpretation emerges. If heaven is a process, then it is a process that mankind must contribute to. In other words, man must take the understanding of the universe which it has gathered from the Dao and utilize this to make the world a better place—to create heaven on earth. Following one’s Li lines means applying the principle of Wei Wu Wei—active non-action—in a decidedly pro-active form. When Ganner sacrifices himself in Traitor, he is following his Li line to its fullest extent. His action—playing Horatio at the Gates in a manner that puts Gandalf the Gray to shame—allows Jacen to escape and follow his own Li lines, which culminate in his finding a peaceful resolution to the bloodiest war in galactic history.

Essentially, in Daoism we all have the choice of whether or not to follow our own personal Li lines, but the universe benefits far more from us choosing to follow the line instead of diverging from it. The point of attaining an understanding of the Dao is not to go and guard it in a cave like Gollum and the Ring; no, the entire point of this enlightenment is to take what one has learned of the universe and use that understanding to change the universe for the better. Luke Skywalker does not take his understanding of familial love and hide in a cave on Dagobah—he goes to Endor to redeem his father, even if it costs him his life. So the “non-action” part of Wei Wu-Wei can be reinterpreted as “not taking action against the stream of one’s life”. When combined with the “active” part of “active non-action”, the meaning is entirely altered. Rather than sitting on a mountaintop far away from society, Wei Wu-Wei becomes the process of actively following the stream of one’s life carefully and constantly.

vaderunmasked

Following the string of one’s Li lines can be complemented by understanding how Li lines interconnect, and how to manipulate those connections. Stover wrote another Star Wars novel, entitled Shatterpoint, in which the titular concept is used to describe the intersections of Li lines. By striking at the right place, and at the right moment, one can alter the course of history. Now, does acting upon the understanding of a shatterpoint follow the principle of Wei Wu-Wei or does it oppose it? I would argue that in many cases, the Li lines themselves lead one to this shatterpoint. If we are all interconnected, if the universe itself is entirely interconnected, then every action we take has an equal reaction—hence the Hindu law of karma. So to create our better world, to create and maintain Tian, then from a Daoist perspective we must learn to see how the Li lines of the universe interact, to see the shatterpoints of reality and manipulate them in order to create Tian. To use an example from Traitor, Jacen may have realized that his life or death was a shatterpoint for the war effort, and indeed the fate of the galaxy, causing him to go with Vergere and escape from Coruscant, rather than die with Ganner.

So I suppose that it might be more accurate to say that Jedi philosophy, or at least the radical school espoused by Vergere, is the practical application of Daoist principles in a concerted manner to bring about a happier, more peaceful world. The Jedi principles of non-attachment echo similar Daoist principles; even death itself is seen as simply being part of the cycle of life, a journey which we must all take in the end. Death is the natural termination of a Li line, and unnatural attempts to extend one’s life (such as feeding on souls or possession) are considered to be extremely reprehensible to the Jedi. One could even argue that death itself is the true finish line of a Daoist’s search for eternity. In the end, the Dao, the Force, or whatever term one applies… these terms are only shades of the truth. These terms mask the truths behind them.

quigonpyre

Postscript: Dawn of the Jedi Issues 00-05, and Je’daii Concepts of Balance

In the past, I have contended that Vergere is a back-to-basics Jedi, suggesting that her philosophy is a throwback to both the real-world inspirations for the Jedi and the theoretical early Jedi philosophy. With that in mind, it’s interesting to look at how Dawn of the Jedi (bearing in mind that I’ve only read the first arc) interprets the beliefs and codes of the proto-Jedi. The Je’daii of Dawn of the Jedi (which takes place over 25,000 years ago, delving into the origins of the Jedi prior to the formation of the Galactic Republic) do seem to buy into a less biased version of ‘balance’ than the Jedi of the Prequel era—or indeed, the Jedi of KotOR. Their very code enshrines a commitment to truly balancing light and dark, rather than annihilating one in favor of the other as the later Jedi Order would prefer.

“There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no fear, there is power.

I am the heart of the Force.

I am the revealing fire of light.

I am the mystery of darkness

In balance with chaos and harmony

Immortal in the Force.”

The concept of dark and light being equivalent to evil and good is set aside in favor of a worldview where both are seen as essential elements of a balanced life—we see the Je’daii exiling individuals for falling too far into the dark, as well as succumbing too thoroughly to the light (well, the second one is alluded to, at least). It’s not as well-developed a set of ideas as that espoused by Vergere- but then again, Traitor can be interpreted as an extended Daoist parable on the Uncarved Block in a certain light—but the basic concepts of Je’daii philosophy to roughly line up in a broad-strokes manner with what Vergere was trying to teach Jacen. Vergere takes the ideas farther and with more nuance—dark and light fundamentally being internal concepts, rather than external god-substitutes—but the fundamental concept is still there, and acted upon in the comics. In short, there is some substance to the idea that Vergere is drawing on the earliest concepts of Jedi philosophy.

Razor’s Edge Review: A New Author Delivers

—–Warning Spoilers—–

315px-Razors_Edge

Razor’s Edge takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. The book was advertised as Leia’s book and Martha Wells delivers that and more for Star Wars fans. The premise of the book is that Leia is going to meet with someone Han knows in order to get supplies for Echo base. The two are traveling on a ship with General Willard which is a great use of one of the lesser known Generals from the movies. Their ship gets attacked and as they are limping in to Arnot Station Leia discovers a long lost Alderaanian gunship marauding as a pirate. This bothers Leia who decides to interfere and ends up taking a small crew (including Han) over to the ship in the hopes of convincing them to join the Rebel Alliance.

Of course nothing goes as planned and the pirates end up sort of kidnapping Leia and Han by having to return to the pirate base in order to fulfill an obligation. Leia is now on a crusade to save the prisoners turned slaves from the ship the pirates took and ends up doing pretty cool action scenes in order to prove her worth to the Alderaanians. Both crews are betrayed by the traitor from Leia’s rebel crew but the heroes manage to survive and save the prisoners with the help of Chewbacca and Luke who were sent by General Madine to help protect the Gamble on its way back from the meeting which never takes place.

The story is pretty classically Star Wars EU and this story really shine from the minor details Wells includes. She definitely did her homework before writing this novel. Wells, while using a heavily female cast (yay!), also uses a variety of species and even invents a few of her own. She makes sure to include different races of humans as well, something the EU fans have been complaining about for awhile now. The three main females Leia, Captain Metara and Captain Aral tukor Viest are well written with detailed descriptions of their looks. The interactions between the characters are clever and the use of a Lorrdian is a nice nod to the EU and does a good job of explaining how a female pirate could have taken over the massive operation in a male dominated time during the Empire’s reign.

Some of the new or little used species include an Andulian (“grey skin, long white hair, furry brows, and atrophied gills in their cheeks”), Ishori an amphibious species, and a Videllan (“gold-brown skin of a leathery texture, a high forehead curving back to a fringe of fluffy golden hair, a beard, and large, expressive eyes with high, tufted brows”). I’ve often thought that during this timeframe the EU authors fall back on the classic movie species so it was very refreshing to read about new species.

“When it comes to trying to stop a crew of innocent bystanders from being sold into slavery, yes, I’m happy to lie with the best of them.”

Leia’s characterization was perhaps one of her best. We even got an introspection from Leia concerning her being seen as a figurehead or symbol for the Alliance. Leia shows some insecurity for being seen as this perfect symbol and wonders how long she can go before she makes a big mistake. This introspection actually strengthens Leia’s character and her grit and determination really shine through in this novel.

The use of Luke Skywalker in this book was also well done because it wasn’t overdone. It seems difficult for authors to use Skywalker without having him become the focus of the story but Wells was able to do so. A pre-Jedi Luke falls for one of the oldest tricks in the book showing the naive farmboy he was during that time but it was nice to see that she didn’t undervalue Luke’s ability since he basically had himself freed but Wells still allowed Leia to ride to the rescue and save Skywalker from being handed over to the Empire.

I really only have one complaint and this complaint probably was my own doing. So I was under the impression that this book was going to give me strong female characters and focus on Leia. Ok the book delivered, except for one part and it was a pretty big turning point in the story. Perhaps if I hadn’t had some expectations going into this book I wouldn’t have been so bothered by it and it might have been unfair of me to put my expectations and hopes for the heroine on Razor’s Edge. Leia is competing in a death match meets the Star Wars version of Quidditch for the sake of the pirates’ entertainment and she thinks if she wins she’ll get what she came for. That’s the ‘deal’ at least. So Leia is on the verge of winning even against the cheating pirates’ droid. Somehow they magically fall through the net and as they’re falling Han Solo who has also somehow fallen through several tunnels comes from the opposite side of the station and bizarrely finds himself in a position to save Leia by ramming a flatbed repulsor into the droid. There was no reason for Han to have done this. This was a perfect place to have Leia be the winner all on her own and it really made me angry to see this in the book that was supposed to showcase Leia. This scene was set up to deliver what I’ve been looking for in a female character’s part of the story and Wells fumbles the ball by having Han end up stumbling through a convoluted way and ending up saving Leia.

The only other minor complaints I have is that Wells turns Han into a horny teenager at one point. I understand what she was getting at with the scene and she was trying to recreate some of that sexual tension we see between the two but the writing was off here and it became kind of creepy and awkward instead of Ford’s suave devil-may-care portrayal of Solo.

If you enjoy Star Wars EU during this time period or you enjoy Leia Organa as a character I would highly recommend this book. Pay attention to the details and enjoy a well written Leia.

(Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing Eleven-ThirtyEight with advance digital copies of this book)

The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. II

Last week, I began this series to answer some of the burning Star Wars questions my casual-fan friends were always asking me—if you missed it, click here to find out how lightsabers were invented, whether there are other galaxies outside of the main one, and how exactly Emperor Palpatine fell to the Dark Side. This entry finishes off my first batch of questions, but readers are encouraged to pose their own questions in the comments section below (or via e-mail) for use in further volumes.

Now with that out of the way, on to Volume II…

 


 

4. What is the origin of the Millennium Falcon?

Well, first, it should be pointed out that the Falcon, officially a Corellian Engineering Corporation YT-1300 light freighter, is the “windowless white van” of the Star Wars universe. It looks so cool to us in real life that it’s easy to overlook the fact that even farmboy yokel Luke Skywalker calls it a “piece of junk” at first glance. As Han is quick to point out, what sets it apart is a number of “special modifications”—though even Han can’t take credit for all of them.

The YT series was notable in the first place for being an extremely modular and reconfigurable freighter series, which allowed for lots of cosmetic variations from model to model (like this and this) without having to redesign the thing from the ground up. It also meant that a pilot who knew his stuff had a great deal of leeway to alter basic systems—shielding, weaponry, hyperdrive—based on his priorities. For the computer nerds among us, the way I always explain my love of PCs to people is that Macs are the Enterprise (easy to use, ready right out of the box), and PCs are the Falcon (temperamental, but extraordinarily customizable).

Anyway, the YT-1300 model was introduced in 72 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), and the Falcon was built in 60 BBY—in other words, almost thirty years before The Phantom Menace. Having been subject to a malfunction on the assembly line that contributed to the engines’ touchy nature, it was indeed a temperamental ship right from the get-go, and ironically, that probably had a lot to do with its superior performance by the time Han got a hold of it—it was known for breaking down at inopportune moments and stranding its pilots, forcing frequent replacements and upgrades just to stay operational.

After twelve years in service as a regular ol’ freighter, the Falcon finally ended up in the world of smuggling after Corell Industries Limited declared bankruptcy in 48 BBY. This only hastened its evolution into a lean, mean fighting machine, and eventually it was purchased—and operated as the Stellar Envoy—by the Republic Group, which was basically a clandestine but not-exactly-illegal group of Republic loyalists (including Jedi and Senators) hoping to restore the then-foundering Republic to its glory days. Like the Tea Party, but with an actual point. The Clone Wars erupted not too long afterward, so obviously things didn’t quite work out for them, either.

It was Republic Group business, by the way, that led to the Falcon being present on Coruscant during the abduction of Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, and the ship can actually be seen in the movie shortly after Anakin and Obi-Wan’s crash landing.

Eventually the Envoy got into a pretty bad accident and was sold as scrap to an idiosyncratic engineer, who largely rebuilt it and ultimately put it back to work in illegal activities (and at one point, as the home base for a travelling circus). Things continued like this until Lando won the ship in 5 BBY, by which point it’d been named the Millennium Falcon, in honor of its speed and longevity. Lando then made the mistake of asking his friend Han Solo to teach him how to fly it, at which point Han promptly fell in love with the old girl. Lando had a couple solid years of adventures in the ship alongside his copilot Vuffi Raa, one of the best EU characters ever, before ultimately losing it to Han the same way he’d won it—in a game of sabacc.

Further reading: Millennium FalconThe Millennium Falcon Owner’s Workshop Manual

5. Are there Jedi doing other things with the Force? Agriculture? Medicine?

Short answer: yes, yes, and yes.

It should go without saying, of course, that even regular Jedi are adept at Force healing, especially in combat situations—and lots of material has been written about Jedi healing practices during the Clone Wars and later in Luke’s new Jedi Order.

But hey, funny story—did you know that in the time of the Prequels, there are actually four Jedi Councils? That’s right—what did you think those other towers were for?

So in addition to the High Council that we see a hundred times, there’s also the Council of First Knowledge (youngling wranglers), the Council of Reconciliation (saying “nice gundark” until they can find a rock), and the Council of Reassignment.

The Council of Reassignment’s job was to, well, the name says it all. They oversaw the four branches of the Jedi Service Corps—Agricultural, Medical, Educational, and Exploration. When up-and-coming Jedi students proved to not have the temperament, or raw Force potential, for the standard Knight lifestyle, the Council would place them where what talents they did possess could still be put to use in service of the Republic, while allowing them to sleep in once in a while. This system led to the Service Corps being seen by many as a polite way of flunking out, but in truth a lot of younglings (and even older Jedi who lost their taste for the big-ticket work) elected to join the Service Corps as a way to more directly serve the common folk of the galaxy. At least until that whole Empire thing…they didn’t take well to that.

Further reading: The Jedi Path, the Jedi Apprentice series

6. Are some species unable to be Force-sensitive? What species is best at it?

This is a tricky topic, as some species very much seem abnormally suited to Force use purely because they’re species that authors feel like making Jedi—Yoda’s species being the prime example. You can count the number of characters of Yoda’s species on your fingers, and sure enough, they’re all Jedi—and mostly important, powerful ones at that. But given how few we’re talking about, it’s hard to take that as definitive evidence that the species itself is unusually Force-inclined; though their longevity could certainly factor into that.

Moving on, another thing that’s come up now and then is the evolutionary benefit of Force-sensitivity—a population composed solely of Jedi will not necessarily produce only Force-sensitive children, but over time, in particularly harsh conditions, sensitives can indeed become more common through natural selection regardless of a species’ normal rate of sensitivity. Mace Windu, notably, is from the human population of a jungle planet called Haruun Kal—which was originally settled by Jedi and did indeed evolve such that the entire human population is Force-sensitive. This seems to be the exception, though; not the rule.

One species, the Miraluka, is so Force-sensitive that they don’t even have eyes; they “see” only what the Force shows them. Gotals (like the goat guy in the Mos Eisley cantina) have limited ESP through their horns that is understood to involve the Force, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can be Jedi. The nonsentient wolf-like vornskr species actually evolved to hunt with the Force, which led to their natural prey, the ysalamiri, evolving the ability to repel the Force away from them like a little bubble—something that became a huge MacGuffin in New Republic-era EU stories.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Khommites, who decided long ago that their species had reached its ideal evolutionary state and then proceeded to ban natural reproduction in favor of perpetually cloning everyone in existence so that they could continue their historic role in society indefinitely. That worked out okay until Dorsk 81, the first Force-sensitive Khommite ever…or at least in 81 generations.

Last but not least are the Yuuzhan Vong, detailed further in Volume I, who originally existed in a state of Force-sensitive symbiosis with Yuuzhan’tar, their homeworld. When their warring ways led to the death of Yuuzhan’tar’s Gaia-like living consciousness, the species lost its Force connection entirely, and remained that way for so long that upon encountering Jedi they had utterly no frame of reference for what they were seeing.

Further reading: Shatterpoint, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Heir to the Empirethe New Jedi Order series