Take A Good Look
Happy Labor Day, readers! Today, I wanted to look into one of the most fascinating short stories ever to be published in Insider, Karen Traviss’ “A Two Edged Sword,” (mistakenly published in Insider as just “Two Edged Sword”) the follow-up to another Traviss short story entitled “In His Image.” Both stories were subsequently published as an addendum in Aaron Allston’s Betrayal. “In His Image” is a story of Sa Cuis, one of Palpatine’s first “hands,” and a particularly loyal one. Cuis was sent by Palpatine to murder Vader, and although he fails, Vader extracts some of his DNA for future cloning purposes- one of the earliest stories, continuity-wise, which documents an obsession of the new Empire – cloning force users.
Vader is assisted and defended in this story by his loyal lieutenant, Erv Lakeuf, whose DNA is also extracted in the hopes of strengthening Vader’s Fist, the 501st. We open our story as Sidious and Lakeuf observe Vader training one of the clones of Cuis, which ends abruptly upon Vader’s choosing. Vader then engages Sidious in conversation, and we get to see some terrific insight into his character, particularly the way in which he holds on to his past. Vader is shown to be very wary of Sidious in this story, and it is very clear that he keeps the fact that he is being used and abused in the front of his mind, constantly. However, he also references Padme and Obi-Wan multiple times in this story, most notably when coming to terms with the fact that Sidious had ordered his execution, and likely would again, tapping into the theme that defined Anakin Skywalker: betrayal. Vader muses “And I trusted you too, Padme. I’m practiced at handling betrayal now.” Are we then to also assume that Vader sees his actions against his wife as justified? That he truly believes that she brought Obi-Wan there to kill her, even though her last words to him denied this fact? Some food for thought.
While Vader clearly has much contempt in his heart for Sidious, this story presents us with an even more interesting relationship, the fatherly one that Vader feels for Lakeuf. While Lakeuf’s clones are being bossed by Cuis’s in a practice session being viewed by Vader and Sidious, Vader remarks that he feels and understands Lakeuf’s fear, which is that his clones will displease Sidious, and Lakeuf will have to spend another six months away from his wife and family training them. After considering this, Vader orders that Cuis’ clones holster their lightsabers when training against Lakeuf’s clones, in favor of (non-lethal) metal staffs. Sidious notices Vader’s behavior, identifies the root of it, and tells Vader that creating this facade of a friendship with lieutenant can be used to his advantage. Unbeknown to Sidious, Vader appears to have a genuine fondness for his subordinate, especially after Lakeuf tells Sidious (after being prompted) that the reason for his loyalty to the Dark Lord is grounded in their understanding that Vader does not ask the 501st to do anything he would not also do himself. This has many real world implications, surely- an effective strategy taught to leaders in our own business world is to “get in the trenches” with subordinates, and respect will be earned. As a result of this show of loyalty, Vader tells Lakeuf to notify his wife that he would be returning home for a visit. Vader justifies this move to Sidious as “motivation,” but a sense of wanting to live vicariously through Lakeuf is also present, as Vader is aware that he will never be able to enjoy a return to those he loved.
The team of Sidious, Vader, Lakeuf and his men, the clones, and Sheyvan (another hand of the Emperor, and trainer of Cuis’ clones) board a shuttle for the Imperial Center, presumably on Coruscant. After only a short time in the air, Vader immediately senses treachery, and this is confirmed by his lieutenant, who notifies him that Sheyvan and the clones of Cuis have mobilized, killed all of Lakeuf’s men, and are preparing to kill Sidious and take the ship. Lakeuf and his colleague, Pepin (named after Dany Pepin, legend of the SW Fan Audio community and creator of Star Wars En Direct) obtain a flamethrower, and cut the power to the ship. With the assistance of the flamethrower, Vader engages and wipes out the mutineers and their leaders quickly, but Lakeuf suffers serious burns in the fallout, another distinct connection that he would now share with his commander. Before falling to Vader’s blade, Sheyvan warns the Dark Lord about Sidious: “He will betray you too,” to which Vader utters the line of the story, “Few men will not try to betray me.”
After learning of his friend’s injuries, Vader cradles- let me repeat that- Vader cradles his lieutenant, and calls for bacta. In this moment, Vader’s first thoughts go to Obi-Wan, who Vader describes as the “master he trusted,” but one who had abandoned him to die- a bit of a delusional moment, given the actuality of their battle on Mustafar, but one that goes a long way into Vader’s mindset. He later tells a scarred but healing Lakeuf, “You are too loyal for your own good, Lieutenant” to which Lakeuf replies “That’s my job, my Lord.” Vader then tells him, “You never disappoint me.” Refreshingly, this feels like it should be an exchange between Anakin and Rex, or Obi-Wan and Cody- there is still a semblance of humanity within the mangled metal that replaced Anakin Skywalker.
We then are taken to a final scene, Vader and Sidious watching troops gather on Coruscant, in a scene that harkens back to the end of Attack of the Clones. In this instance, however, it is the dialogue that is more important than the imagery. Vader tells Sidious he does not want Dark Jedi in the Imperial Army, and Sidious seemingly ignores him, instead justifying that they would need to be trained by Vader himself, not a less trustworthy hand. And right on cue, as Palpatine tells Vader in the most patronizing of manners that “the solution to having to watch your back is to have the enemy watch theirs instead,” Vader delivers just one final thought to Sidious: “I will come for you one day.” As difficult as it is to acknowledge, especially knowing what he will be capable of down the line, Padme’s dying words are vindicated yet again- Anakin is still there, deep down, in many ways- and as this story shows, he never loses sight of himself. The tale of Vader is truly a tragedy of staggering proportion.
Posted on September 2, 2013, in Original Trilogy EU and tagged Coruscant, Darth Vader, Lieutenant, Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Palpatine, Sidious, Traviss, Vader. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.