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The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. III

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I received one last question from my friend Pearl (she of EU Explains Vol’s I and II). This was easily the meatiest bone she’d thrown my way thus far, so I thought I’d tackle it all on its lonesome. Remember that you can still submit questions of your own to me via e-mail or as a comment below.

7. With the Death Star about to blow up, would it have mattered if Luke destroyed Vader and joined the Emperor or if Vader let the Emperor destroy Luke?

One thing that happens a lot in the Expanded Universe is that persons and events that aren’t necessarily all that remarkable are given abnormal weight in the larger continuity because of their appearance, or even simply a mention, in the films. The more people are aware of a certain element of the canon—Greedo, for example—the more demand there is for that element to be reflected and expanded upon in other sources—and so Greedo’s species, the Rodians, are now known primarily for being hunters. Kessel is nothing but spice mines, Han ran into two or three bounty hunters on Ord Mantell, and the shuttle Tydirium was stolen two or three times.

And those are pretty minor details. So what happens to major ones?

Welcome to the climax of the entire saga—the second Death Star.

First, a little extra context. At this point, Emperor Palpatine is as powerful as he has ever been, and he is the cog at the center of the entire Imperial machine; without him, the Empire largely falls apart. This is true not only bureaucratically but militarily, as Palpatine has in his bag of tricks a Force ability called battle meditation.

Battle meditation is something that roleplayers might call a force amplifier—when engaged, Palpatine’s presence enhances his troops’ focus, instincts, response times, and so on. While it is known that the Imperial forces at the Battle of Endor were quickly routed and sent running following the Death Star’s destruction, it’s open to interpretation to what extent Palpatine himself was influencing the course of the battle. An argument could be made, though, that things went so badly for him largely because his attention was occupied by Luke and Vader. Without those distractions, even a tiny increase in the resilience and effectiveness of the Imperial fleet, and of the ground troops on the forest moon, could have changed the outcome of the battle. So for Luke, being in that room at all was already a victory.

darkempirelukeNow then—we actually have a decent roadmap for the first scenario (Luke goes dark and kills Vader) in the comic series Dark Empire, wherein the Emperor comes back in a cloned body and Luke does indeed become his apprentice for a short time. Luke is still genuinely a different kinda dude from his father, though—rather than “falling” for the selfish reason of trying to save a loved one, Luke turns with the intention of studying the Dark Side so that he can better understand why Vader did the things he did, and so he can ultimately defeat the Emperor more completely. It’s still pretty shaky as justifications go, but it at least suggests that he wouldn’t have been quite as docile an apprentice as Vader was—and without Vader’s injuries, he would quickly have become powerful enough to indeed destroy Palpatine…just in time to take his place and be all evil and omnipotent and stuff.

But first they’d both have had to survive the Battle of Endor. While the editing of Return of the Jedi intercuts the throne room, the space battle, and the ground battle pretty evenly, there’s a lot of wiggle room in there for what is actually happening when. Even according to said editing, Luke’s most likely turning point (hacking away at Vader and taking off his hand) comes before the shield generator is destroyed, which leaves about eight minutes of screen time before Lando and Wedge hit the reactor—for two powerful guys like Luke and Palpatine, even that is probably enough time for an escape. But when you really think about the chain of events that unfolds (Luke refuses to turn, Palps fries him for a while, Vader tosses him down the pit, Luke drags him all the way to a hangar bay, they have a leisurely conversation, Luke drags the armor into the shuttle, powers it up, flies away just as the explosion reaches him), you’re probably talking about at least twice that much time—20-30 minutes, I’d guess. Certainly enough time to escape, but more importantly, probably well before the shield even went down; meaning that there’d still be a renewal of battle meditation to consider, to say nothing of Luke just jumping into a TIE and shooting the Falcon down.

Of course, even if the two most powerful beings in the galaxy were unable to save the Death Star, don’t forget that unlike the first one, number two was still a secret. Without any of the political fallout coming from such an enormous military loss, Palpatine still had the bulk of the Imperial fleet, and all of its infrastructure, to support his continuing war against the Rebellion—and a shiny new apprentice, to boot.

All that, of course, is just scenario one. As for scenario two—Palpatine fries Luke to death? Well, for my part, I have a hard time thinking he’d have kept Vader around after getting taken down by his punk kid. As a Darth Maul-style attack dog, maybe, but any shot Vader ever had of defeating and replacing Palpatine rested in Luke.

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So what happens then? Well, Palpatine’s bag of tricks isn’t empty yet—remember that cloned body I mentioned in Dark Empire? Let me tell you about a little thing called essence transfer.

Thousands of years earlier, the ancient Sith discovered a creepy dark-side version of the quasi-immortality Obi-Wan and Yoda demonstrate in the films, wherein they could transplant their consciousness into a new body, and thus effectively live forever. Thankfully, this technique was lost for a long time (though Darth Bane, who began the Rule of Two one thousand years ago, came pretty close to figuring it out), but sometime after his apprentice got turned into hamburger in Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine once again figured it out—hence a big, handy facility full of backup bodies on his hidden throne world Byss. Having given up on Vader as a worthwhile successor, Palpatine figured he’d finally outgrown the Rule of Two, and planned to rule personally for eternity by transferring his essence into clone after clone until the end of time. So really, with those pesky Skywalkers no longer a concern, I imagine that he’d have just cut his losses and stopped bothering with apprentices at that point.

The thing about those cloned bodies, by the way, is that the kind of ludicrous dark side power Palpatine was exhibiting can burn through their cells at a faster-than-normal rate—so it’s possible that he’d have had to move onto other hosts eventually to keep himself going. This degradation was actually the EU’s original explanation for Palpatine’s appearance in RotJ; it was implied at the time that he’d already started swapping bodies by the OT—the Prequels changed that thanks to Ian McDiarmid playing his real age, but the essence transfer concept remained.

So that’s it, right? All the X-factors of the Battle of Endor have been accounted for?

Not. So. Fast.ig88

Let’s talk about IG-88. If you’re drawing a blank, he’s the spindly droid bounty hunter seen briefly in The Empire Strikes Back. In the short-story compilation Tales of the Bounty Hunters, we find out that IG-88 was actually one sociopathic droid consciousness spread across four different functionally-identical bodies. His goal? Nothing less than total droid domination of the galaxy.

Anyway, while on board the Executor in ESB, IG-88 hacked into top-secret Imperial files and discovered the existence of the second Death Star. Boy, he thought, that thing would sure be helpful for my droid revolution!

So naturally, IG-88 hijacked the shipment bearing the Death Star’s central computer, and downloaded his consciousness (the last instance of it, as the other three bodies had been destroyed by then) into the computer. It was eventually installed in the station, and IG-88 assumed total control of the Death Star, with the Empire none the wiser. He went so far as to tweak the accuracy of the station’s gunners when firing the superlaser at the Rebel fleet, and was preparing to signal his droid minions to unleash hell on the galaxy with a sentient Death Star as their leader when the station was destroyed…and thank god for that.

Naturally, not everyone is eager to take this story at face value, and it’s never really been mentioned since. Personally, I like to think that the Empire knew exactly what was going on, and had the ability to block IG-88 from assuming total control of the station, but someone figured that as long as he was improving their firing accuracy, they might as well run with it.

Further reading: Tales of the Jedi, Vol. 1Darth Bane: Dynasty of EvilTales of the Bounty Hunters

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

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