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Vergere: An Ultra-Traditionalist Jedi, A Radical Daoist

A version of this essay was originally submitted as a midterm paper for Religions of China and Japan at West Virginia University, by yours truly.

traitorMy understanding of Daoism is based upon, of all things, the Star Wars mythos. In particular, I can cite the New Jedi Order novel Traitor as being the key to my understanding of Daoist teachings; the author has a much more thorough grasp of the Force’s philosophical roots than George Lucas himself could ever dream of. The novel follows Jacen Solo’s journey of self-discovery while in captivity. For those who have not read the New Jedi Order, Jacen Solo is the oldest son of Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo, and twin brother to Jaina Solo. For those readers who haven’t read the New Jedi Order (and are likely unaware of the fan debates surrounding it), In the novel Traitor, Jacen Solo is held captive by the invading Yuuzhan Vong in the aftermath of the Jedi Strike Team’s assault on a Vong bioweapon facility, and the resulting death of Anakin Solo. Jacen is taught by the enigmatic Jedi known as Vergere, an unorthodox figure who has since been smeared as a “Sith”. But the epithet “Sith” cannot be further from the truth of Vergere—who herself does not exactly consider the spoken word, the name, or indeed language itself, to contain more than a glimmer of the truth. Like a good Daoist, Vergere recognizes that any truth which can simply be described, quantified, or categorized by words isn’t really a truth at all. Rather than being a product of Sith teachings, Jacen’s revelations teach him to love the universe for all of its faults, find his inner strengths, and use these to further the cause of “Tian”—the process of heaven on earth.

Describing knowledge is antithetical to Daoist beliefs, for knowledge itself is in a constant state of change. To describe a truth is to imply certain static qualities concerning such truth, which runs fundamentally against the concept of “anicca”- impermanence. One cannot find the truth of the Dao in these illusory teachings, because truth itself is not permanent. In the words of the Jedi Vergere, “Everything I tell you is a lie. Every question I ask is a trick. You will find no truth in me.” In Daoism, there IS no truth that a teacher can simply impart to a student. ANYTHING that a teacher simply “teaches” to a student is a lie. The truth of the Dao is beyond any words that society has created to describe it. This VERY ESSAY will inevitably fall short of the truth of the Dao, because to write this essay, I must utilize words—words with a static, incomplete meaning, which obscures the truth behind them. Read More

The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. I

archaiclightsaberWhen I’m explaining this site to people, one of the most important points I have to make is that the tone is intended as Expanded Universe-conversant, without being totally mired in thirty years of miscellaneous continuity. A lot of people still speak in hushed tones of the great Canon Wars, wherein the “everything counts” people waged a holy crusade against the “only the films count” people that rivaled the Galactic Civil War itself, but in my experience, for every Star Wars fan I know who’s actively opposed to the EU, there are five to ten who are at least dimly aware of it, and consider it more or less a valid enterprise; it just isn’t their thing.

Now that the sequels are coming and Lucasfilm is making noise about using at least assorted bits and pieces of the EU in their big-screen storytelling, I want Eleven-ThirtyEight to be as much of a resource for those people as it is for hardcore EU fans—somewhere they can go to get a sense of context as the Sequel Trilogy unfolds without needing an encyclopedic knowledge to gain entry.

If I’m honest, we haven’t quite gotten to that point yet; there’s so little known about Episode VII right now that there’s not much to be said about it beyond “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if they took this or that from the books”. So in the interest of reaching out to those casual fans out there, who have heard of Grand Admiral Thrawn and maybe even read Dark Lord or Shadows of the Empire but otherwise haven’t been paying that much attention, I reached out to Pearlann Porter, a good friend of my own who’s every bit the SW fan I am, but doesn’t know a Houk from a Hoojib, and asked her to provide me with any burning questions she might have about things the films never explained. So without further ado, I give you Volume I of The Expanded Universe Explains. Read More

Jason Fry Talks Jupiter Pirates, and the Highs and Lows of “Non-Fiction Fiction”

jason

In addition to being one of the reigning kings of what he calls “non-fiction fiction” in the Star Wars franchise—meaning reference books like the Essential Guide series and even explicitly in-universe books like the forthcoming The Bounty Hunter Code: From the Files of Boba Fett—Jason Fry is a prolific sports and media writer whose must-follow blog, Jason Fry’s Dorkery, is every bit as diverse as his professional résumé, and every bit as minutiae-heavy as the title suggests.

Now, after over a decade of experience improving other people’s IP, Fry is on the verge of releasing his first work of original fiction with the HarperCollins young-adult series The Jupiter Pirates. He was kind enough to answer a number of our questions on both his original and Star Wars work, and on the trials and tribulations of continuity.

 


 

Eleven-ThirtyEight: In both the Essential Atlas and the Essential Guide to Warfare, one common theme is the difficulty of maintaining a galactic union on the scale of the Republic, Empire, Galactic Alliance, etc. You have spilled more ink on the subject than most, so what are your views on how to make galactic government work? Would you be Emperor Fry or Supreme Chancellor Fry?

Jason Fry: This is one of those things that’s better looked at quickly, as it tends to break down under thorough scrutiny. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, mostly with Dan Wallace, to imagine how 1,000-odd regional “prequel” sectors and millions of “West End Games” subsectors could work together, and to explain the many oddities/contradictions of the Senate, but that’s really playing the hand that’s been dealt, not imagining things from the planets up. Read More

Top Shelf: The Han Solo Trilogy

Ann C. Crispin

Many of you may have heard the sad news that Ann C. Crispin passed away of cancer at age sixty-three last week. One of the small comforts when an author passes is that she will be able to live on through her writing. To Star Wars fans, that means The Han Solo Trilogy, her main work in the universe. I don’t feel qualified to offer a eulogy to Crispin, who had an extensive career in the science fiction and fantasy community, but I can pay tribute to her Star Wars books, which were among the first I read as a boy stepping into the Expanded Universe.

Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy is one of the great achievements of the Bantam era. It’s unique in being the only story designed to be a more-or-less complete backstory of a major film hero. A side benefit of this, at least for someone with my taste for synthesis, is that the HST is one of the first major works of EU continuity synthesis, drawing from all over to build a story on what had gone before. Crispin draws characters, backstory, and details of the setting from The Han Solo Adventures; the Thrawn trilogy; The Jedi Academy Trilogy; the Marvel comics; Darksaber; The Corellian Trilogy; Shadows of the Empire; the X-wing books and comics; The Lando Calrissian Adventures; The New Rebellion; I, Jedi; The Crystal Star; the Glove of Darth Vader series; and Dark Empire — and that’s just off the top of my head — and weaves them together into a powerful story that stands on its own merits as an examination of Han Solo’s character, a chronicle of his adventures, and a record of his maturation via a rich character arc. It’s quite an accomplishment. Crispin’s writing is mature, dealing with relationships, death, addiction, and depression honestly and seriously, but it never loses the sense of hope and adventure that distinguishes Star Wars. The books are rich but fun.

The Paradise Snare

The Paradise Snare

The first book of the trilogy, The Paradise Snare opens with Han’s escape from the cruel con artist Garris Shrike, who, Fagin-like, runs a gang of child thieves and grifters. Han’s past with Shrike is established via backstory, but the novel focuses on nineteen-year-old Han’s efforts to define himself as a man outside the stifling, repressive confines of Shrike’s custody.

Han strikes out to get a job as a pilot on Ylesia, a religious colony, in order to earn enough money to accomplish his real dream: gaining admittance to the Imperial Academy. A mixture of streetwise and naive, young Han grows through his partnership with his copilot Muuurgh, his budding romance with the young religious pilgrim Bria Tharen, and his growing realization that Ylesia is not a peaceful paradise, but something far more sinister.

The climax of the book is astonishing, putting the young, still-idealistic Han through triumph and all-too-real heartbreak. Crispin brings great emotional depth and realism to Han’s story and takes on the issue of addiction head-on, growing Han as a character — something all too rare with the major protagonists — and giving the reader tons of space adventure. It definitely makes the most of its position as Han’s origin story.

The Hutt Gambit

Skipping past Han’s time in the Imperial Navy, The Hutt Gambit opens with a depressed Han mourning the death of his dream, kicked out of the Fleet and blackballed from legitimate shipping jobs. His idealism crushed by the ugliness of the Empire and his dashed hopes, he retreats into the cynical shell we see in the films, reluctantly taking on Chewbacca as a partner.

The Hutt Gambit

Just as The Paradise Snare was the story of Han’s maturation, this is the story of Han’s recovery of hope as he takes back control of his life, is drawn into the criminal underworld, and finds success there. Crispin deftly draws from all kinds of sources to build a portrait of Han’s early career as he takes on smuggling jobs for the Hutts and establishes himself in the smuggling communities of Nar Shaddaa and Smuggler’s Run. His friendships with Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian blossom, he is introduced to the Millennium Falcon, and he begins working for Jabba.

The deadly criminal politics of the Hutt clans provide a meaty background for the action, into which Crispin delves with aplomb. The machinations of the rival Desilijic and Besadii clans underlie the trilogy, while tensions between the Hutts and the Empire lead to the book’s climax, in which Han and his Academy-dropout friend Mako Spince organize the smugglers and pirates of Nar Shaddaa into a defensive force that repels an Imperial strike that includes Soontir Fel. Han’s role as a military leader is an excellent example of the way Crispin foreshadows his inevitable development as a hero and his inherent nobility under the cynical exterior masking his emotional wounds without becoming too heavy-handed.

Rebel Dawn

Rebel Dawn

In Rebel Dawn, the narrative continues to follow Han as he wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando. He ends up taking a jaunt away from Nar Shaddaa, allowing Crispin to excellently integrate Brian Daley’s venerable Han Solo Adventures (themselves the certain subjects of a future Top Shelf), while the other characters around Han take over the narrative briefly. The Shakespearean machinations of the rival Hutt families remain riveting, while Bria gives the reader entry into the early days of the Rebel Alliance.

When Han returns to Nar Shaddaa, Bria draws him into a Rebel plan to raid Ylesia. Betrayal ensues, and between that and the failed spice run that puts him in debt to Jabba, we see Han increasingly alienated and angry, moved into place for A New Hope.

These three novels are examples of the Expanded Universe at its best. Not just for Crispin’s masterful synthesis of sources, but for their emphasis on mature character development, exciting adventure, and classic universe-building that turns the underworld and Hutt elements of the universe into a vibrant, vital setting. They not only develop a rich and endearing portrait of Han, but give Chewbacca and Lando more respect and development as characters than almost any other EU work. The Han Solo Trilogy is among the very best that the EU has to offer, and it is a great pity that I have to speak of it in the context of Ann Crispin’s death. Though she has passed on, it is a great comfort to her fans that she left behind such excellent and enduring work by which we can remember her.

On Ultimate Star Wars—Implied Canon and the Foggy Window

“I always like the smaller, more personal stories best. Because the movies contain so much big action and so many galactic threats, a lot of writers want to replicate that in the comics and fiction. Unfortunately, because the stories are almost all considered ‘canon,’ it means that the Star Wars galaxy is subjected to a constant stream of dire threats. To me, it strains credibility. I’d much rather see a smaller story, the events of which are important to just one or two characters. I say, leave the big stuff to the films.”Randy Stradley, 2002

Let’s get this out of the way: nothing can save post-Return of the Jedi continuity but Michael Arndt. I, honestly, see no reason just yet to make any assumptions on that matter. This article is primarily a thought exercise, and for the purposes of such I will indeed be assuming a scorched-earth scenario—no Mara, no Jacen or Jaina, even a totally different resolution of the Galactic Civil War—but the points I intend to make will stand no matter what actually comes to pass.

I describe this scenario as “Ultimate Star Wars” for a reason—but not, actually, to suggest a full continuity reboot; I believe a number of lessons can be learned from the example of Marvel Comics’ Ultimate universe (a modern reimagining of their primary continuity’s origins) without going quite that far.

kotorgamecoverFor starters, consider the Knights of the Old Republic video game. Not only is its popularity unrivaled among Expanded Universe stories, with the possible exception of the Thrawn trilogy, but the thing is a giant, hulking brick of story plopped right into the middle of what was previously a fairly empty span of time—it certainly owed a lot of groundwork to the Tales of the Jedi comics of the nineties, but I think few would argue that it didn’t run a good bit farther with the ball than Anderson and Veitch ever did.

So now that we’re all on the same page…try to envision a scenario where KOTOR had to be thrown out of continuity. Not retconned, but totally thrown out; to the extent that Legacy of the Force would be if Jacen Solo were erased from history. Read More