Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

How Nick Spends His Free Time…

I find myself of late pondering the nature of villains. To be honest, this line of thought stems mostly from my recent intoxication with Greggory Macguire’s Wicked, both the novel and the musical. I’m sure this makes our very own Rachel ecstatic. Though I’d been meaning to get around to those works, it was her, in her constant role as catalyst for my love of all things musical, that got me off my rump and actually delving into the wonderful works of Oz. While The Wicked Years have brought me close to the world of L. Frank Baum—until now a work I could find little enthusiasm for—my musings ventured beyond the confines of the Emerald City, past the borders of Munchkinland and the Vinkus. This past month of consideration has brought me to several conclusions, few surprising, but none that I had openly considered before.

Obviously, no piece of fiction is complete without a proper antagonist. Often it is the villain of our heroes that most stick within our minds. Why is that? Forced to consider it, I have to say that while we all strive to be the hero—saving the maiden, righting wrongs—do we not, perhaps, relate to those more villainous? Though unconsidered until I was jotting this down, I find myself increasingly convinced. It’s no surprise we have a tendency to see the worst of ourselves. This harsh introspection is a trademark of human character, and our fiction is ever a reflection of ourselves. Furthermore, heroes by nature are larger than life, and those that possess flaws seem flawed in ways we’d almost wish for. Let’s be honest, heroes, as a whole, are a fairly unbelievable lot. Without that constant foil of their dastardly foe, even our favorite protagonists would fall a little flat. Heroic figures are role models, unachievable in their epic proportions, and therefore they are hard to understand and hard for us to relate to.

Consider with me, what makes the best villains you’ve ever seen? Who are they, what do they look like? On the surface, they are either frightening and powerful, else so smooth and cool you may mistake them for an ally to our hero before realization comes crashing down on you. While there are all sorts of effective villains, many of them find their roots in something all too familiar to us. Perhaps it was heartache and love that drove them to criminal behavior, like Mr. Freeze from the Batman franchise, intent upon saving his wife at all costs. The villain may hide behind their pride and virtue, like Judge Frollo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, using that umbrella to justify his insatiable lust towards a woman and the deeds it drives him to. Maybe an immense ego places them above the reproach of their peers, like Professor James Moriarty from most Sherlock Holmes incarnations. After all, if one has no peers, does that not give them the right to do as they wish? My point, longwinded as it may be, is this; villains resonate within us because we see in them the vices and failings that we deal with in ourselves each and every day. Certainly we also possess the merits of the hero, more than we know, but those are far harder to recognize.  How do you know that you were brave, or noble? Not only are the occasions to showcase those virtues scant at times, but often are so part of our nature that we don’t even realize when we have displayed them.

That all said, we come around to the central theme of this post, which seems to be a continuing examination of what makes Star Wars the cultural phenomena it is. An unintentional turn to my postings, but enjoyable nonetheless. When last I left you, I had examined some of the fights that, to me, had helped to make the franchise stand out. This time around, I will, obviously, look at the villains that challenge our ragtag group of heroes.

I can’t deny that the various antagonists of this universe have been central to the success of the franchise. From the Fetts to the classics—the likes of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine—the villains have captured the imaginations and support of a large portion of Star Wars’ fandom. Even though, cinematically speaking, the Empire is undoubtedly the “bad guys,” they have a loyal and, might I add, large fan following. Not only do the films present us with compelling figures to lead this tyrannical government, the various mediums within the Expanded Universe have done a wondrous job of introducing members of the Imperial forces that have taken us by storm. The likes of Thrawn, Pellaeon, and Daala joined the Imperial ranks as strong, powerful figures that secured themselves a place in our memories. We as fans found that, despite being cast as undoubtedly evil, we rather liked the Empire.

For all this, however, it all comes back around to the original villains in the films. When A New Hope hit the screens, we had our first look at Darth Vader, a dark, imposing figure that strikes fear into the heart. From the size, to his suit—was he a robot, or was that body armor?—to the brilliant voice of James Earl Jones, he was the perfect villain. We saw him as a highly skilled, merciless adversary. We certainly wanted to hate him. Yet, as we progress through the original trilogy, we come to learn more of his past and, more importantly, his present state. Vader is not evil, that had never been his intent. Instead, we see he is a man who lost everything, including much of his body. His spirit is broken, and he moves throughout the films as a specter of who he could have been.  That changes in The Empire Strikes Back. When he learns that he has a son, more importantly when we learn he is Luke’s father, his first words are, “Come with me. My son, I’m offering you the galaxy.” Paraphrasing, sure, but that’s hardly a selfish sentiment. We see a depth that we thought beyond the man. When he witnesses his son being brutally murdered before his eyes, Vader rises up and destroys his master of decades. That spirit returns, Vader is healed, and it is a glorious redemption. In those last moments we see Vader for who he is, and suddenly the depth of his character becomes a little clearer. It’s subtle, but once built upon by the Expanded Universe and Prequel Trilogy, (Though, I think the character of Anankin Skywalker was criminally mishandled, so much so that it almost ruins the character of Vader for me, but that is a conversation for another day) we see that depth at its fullest and Vader steps forward as, perhaps, one of the best villains in recent history.

Even Vader, however, would not be nearly as effective without Palpatine looming over him. Here we have the classic villainous mastermind. Powerful, cunning, manipulative, you want to hate Palpatine. The Emperor, that classic twisted figure, boils your blood with his self-assured manner. A man that rose to take dominion of the majority of the civilized galaxy with primarily his cunning, he is the ultimate evil, serving to illustrate the merits of the heroes in the film. Add in the more minor villains—Boba Fett, Grand Moff Tarkin with his condescending confidence, even the minor moffs and Jabba the Hutt—and you have a broad spectrum of top notch villains that certainly make the galaxy a far more complicated place for our scrappy little rebellion friends.

The films themselves see phenomenal success in the area of bad guys, but it’s not until we get into the Expanded Universe that Star Wars shines in the field of villainy. With the downfall of the Empire, we see factions and splinter groups cropping up everywhere. A young New Republic struggles to assert dominance. We see the introduction of new villains who, in the end, we’re not sure if they truly are villains. Politicians in the New Republic end up more corrupt than their Imperial counterparts. Every which way we turn, we can’t be sure who to root for and who to boo down. Logic may dictate who the “bad guys” are, but our gut tells us that it’s simply all one big mish-mash, and depending on your point of view, the tag of villain can be thrown all over the place, just as the moniker of hero can. In my opinion, this is when a work transcends a simple story and becomes a living, thriving world. As the reader—or viewer, or player, whichever is applicable—begins to realize that the depth of the universe is such that it is possible to see the merits of any faction, that there are no true good guys or bad guys, they begin to experience it all more personally. It feels more real. When you reach this point, everything is connected and the universe begins to develop such depth that it is easy and, in fact enjoyable, to get lost in the intricacies, to forget for a moment that you’re sitting on Earth, reading a book.

For all the flak I give Star Ward of late, in particular the Expanded Universe, the hodge-podge of ideas, beliefs, styles, and preferences of the various authors, illustrators, designers, etc. have all come together to form a deep, thriving world that’s alive in its own right. These characters and events aren’t just stories told us once upon a time, but people and places that have taken root and live a little bit in each of our hearts and imaginations.  As a collective fan base, we have kept alive the universe we love between the droughts and valleys, waiting patiently for the next movie, the next series, the next video game. While the world is compelling, while the heroes are endearing, it’s the villains that, inevitably, keep us coming back to the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Regards,

Nick

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Why We Draft

Hai guys, Tristan here, and there’s something I’d like to talk to you all about today. It’s one of my favorite things about fandoms,  and Star Wars in particular.

So there’s this crazy thing that some of us more absurd fans go in for, drafting characters in a team and pitting them against other teams. I’m sure you’re at least familiar with the concept due to fantasy sports leagues and such, but you see, this has nothing empirical about it. It’s just all of our opinions going up against each other and trying to convince each other who’s right and drafted better. Why would we do such a silly thing? It’s all completely subjective, so there really isn’t any right or wrong answer to any of the matches. Well, I can think of a few reasons to participate in them.

First, it’s a place you can basically nerd out on something. You can show your knowledge of the topic, present it in a logical fashion, argue it, post quotes or scans of relevant information, and really just dig into something you enjoy just that much deeper than you normally would. You can read things in a focused manner, trying to draw out something that might get your participant a win. It lets you feel involved in a way that simply reading the books for enjoyment doesn’t, and it also tests your memory.

Second, it’s a way to be more passionate about something you care about. I mean really, people wouldn’t put the time and effort into five and ten page arguments if it wasn’t something that they could find it in themselves to really care about. Otherwise it’s just a waste of time and energy. I should know, I’ve put in the time and effort to write some of those arguments, and it really feels good when you see results out of it.  But there really is nothing much more passionate in a fandom than arguing or debating with another fan about the subject. Especially if you’re both convinced you’re right.

Third would be the participation. Think about it for a moment, you’re spending time talking to other people about something you love. Sure, you probably do that anyway, but in that kind of setting it’s completely expected. You can hypothesize about things that in more regular company you’d be laughed at or would garner all kinds of strange looks. That’s incredibly freeing. If I were to talk about things in that depth with, say, my girlfriend (who does like Star Wars, and reads the books) I’d get an eye roll or a sigh. In the draft? I get debate, and passionate responses.  And it’s understood that you’re even supposed to argue or debate this stuff, so no one gets mad at you for disagreeing with them. Normally anyway.

Fourth you have competition. It’s a test of your knowledge of the topic, which you really can’t get in a lot of other ways. You not only have to know enough about the subject to even want to get involved, but you have to know enough about it to put together a competitive team. This is not as easy as it might sound. By any stretch of the imagination. It took me almost five years to actually win one, and I’ve not actually come that close most of the time. For one thing you don’t necessarily know the judges, or what their opinions about things are, you have to formulate your own, and you have to know who will actually work with who and when they should be picked. So not only do you have to know the subject and characters involved, but you have to learn about how to draft in and of itself. For those with a competitive streak, this ends up being very fun. Others do it just to put together a joke team, i.e. just for the fun of the drafting process and being able to say that you “had” the character in your possession for a time.

While in some ways this really is a silly past time, it’s no more so than fantasy football or playing a video game. In some ways it’s probably more fun. At least with this you get more direct interaction with other people, which everyone needs to one degree or another, so why not get that interaction through a draft?

For those that still aren’t convinced about drafts, lemme ask you something. How many times have you said something like “Batman would totally beat Superman in a fight”? Haven’t all really serious fans said something like this at one point or another? That’s all this is basically, only putting it in a more formal setting and actually analyzing things as best we can to come to a somewhat legitimate answer instead of merely stating an opinion. We all do this kind of thing, even if it’s just in our minds. And wouldn’t you say there’s just something about being able to say “I have Mace Windu on my team.”? I’d like certainly like to think so.

In my next post we’ll be going back to the more regularly scheduled programing of my chronological read through, and looking at the overall first story arc of Dawn of the Jedi. That’d be the first five comics for those of you wanting to follow along with me. There’s a chance I might do several posts on that storyline, but we’ll just have to see what happens. If nothing else you have a flying Rancoragon to look forward to. Have fun, peace out, and enjoy.

The Force, The Whole Force, and Nothing but The Force

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The Youngling’s guide to the Force!

Hai Guys! Trimaj here, with my first post on this here blog, and I’ve been ruminating on the Force (as if you can’t tell by the title, I mean really). Mainly on how it’s evolved from the magical and mystical “energy field created by all living things” of the Old Trilogy to the pseudo-scientific midichlorians of the Prequel Trilogy into even more… strange things when you get into the Expanded Universe and Clone Wars cartoons. Overall it seems like Lucas hadn’t really considered what the Force really was when he started all of this, and it sort of got lost in the expansion of the EU with the PT midichlorians being his attempt to ground it, as it were, in reality. Personally I think it’s a real shame that Lucas even felt the need to do this, but it also makes sense in universe for the Jedi to have figured out what connected them to the Force after something like 35,000 years. But I don’t think that when Lucas did that it was actually known how long the Jedi had actually been founded (feel free to correct me on this one in the comments). Overall, I’d have to say that the mystical, penetrating, life energy was probably my favorite phase of the Force, just because it’s so mysterious and you know so little about it. It seemed like anything was possible back then, just like the entire Star Wars universe was so much of a blank slate with the OT and immediately after. Admittedly I’m not QUITE that old, but I did see the movies before I was able to even pretend to read any of the books, and it was such a captivating place. I never imagined back then that we’d actually GET another set of movies, and was amazed when I did finally get into the books, starting with TImothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy (a great starting place for anyone really). Then we got The Phantom Menace, and the picture of the Force changed forever.

You see, what Lucas did by grounding the ability to use the Force in an organic organism was to irrevocably change it and make it less mystical and more magience. This was a sad thing to me, mainly because there is so little in Sci-Fi worlds left mysterious in many ways. Everything has to be grounded in Science, even if it’s in another galaxy where not everyone is going to understand everything because that’s just the nature of reality. That is one thing I’ve always liked about fantasy worlds in general, that mysterious unknown where they don’t even attempt to explain things, but that’s another discussion entirely. Basically we’ve gone from magic to magience, which I suppose is a typically good thing in a Sci-Fi world, but this doesn’t do anything to explain how it works, or what the Force even is. That’s what we have the next section of this post for.

Now things start getting slightly wacky, as we have to look at Mortis, the Ones and how they fit into things. Or how they don’t, because they jive with this universe about as well as actual time travel and Waru. Sadly both of these actually exist in this universe via The Crystal Star and Crosscurrent (no I’m not saying either of them are actually bad books (though Crystal Star is), just that they don’t really fit within the established mythos of Star Wars. While it was interesting to finally get some information on the mysterious Celestials in Apocalypse, going and looking at the Ones was just underwhelming and confusing. If the Force has a will, was it theirs? Where did they come from? Were they the original Force users? And that’s just the tip of the questionberg that we’re left with relative to them.

What I’ve personally been able to glean from them was that they influenced the will of the Force, otherwise how could it have a light and dark will if it is just an energy field? I could never really figure that one out, and in a way it is a relief to know that there is something outside of the Force that is influencing it. But since they’re kind of dead, it would suggest that they’ve merged with the force and legitimately become its will after Anakin was there and all of the Ones died. Or merged with the Force, or whatever it is that Force Entities actually do. Basically what I’m thinking is that the Jedi were guided by the Daughter, for a time, and to a degree turned their back on her to do whatever the republic wanted them to do, which is why their ability to use the Force started diminishing. As a result of that the influence of the Lightside was grossly weakened (which might have been why the Father got sick, now that I think about it. This entire thing is almost stupidly convoluted at this point :-P). Darth Plagueis even commented on this in the book of the same name by James Luceno. This was what started me thinking about this, along with my colleague’s post Blinded, Are the Knights. Plagueis was talking about that time, and what had happened the entire thousand plus years running up to that, and how they had lost their opposite to deal with. Essentially the war between the Son and Daughter was taken away from them as the Son started a different kind of war, and the Jedi stagnated and ended up pulling away from the Daughter. Given that this is what the entirety of the balance of the Force is about, their fight and how it evens out under the Father’s watchful eye, it does make sense that the Jedi became lost and in essence had a perverted lightside imbalance as it wasn’t lining up with the Daughter’s will. Now, whether this is actually a GOOD thing or not I can’t really say, but it does seem like that’s what happened. In a way, by the Daughter winning the war between the Jedi and Sith she ultimately lost, because the Jedi didn’t have as much need of listening to the will of the Force, or the will of the Daughter if you will.

Another thing I’m thinking is that the Son might have noticed how much Exar Kun was capable of doing on his own, and might have realized that there doesn’t have to be a lot of people following what he wants so long as they are powerful. In essence he focused almost all of the darkside of the Force in the Baneite Sith to bring about the downfall of the Jedi and the Daughter. And as I said, I think this might be why the Father grew ill, because things were so far out of balance due to the Son’s actions that he essentially caused the fall of the Ones at the hands of Anakin Skywalker. I do find it very interesting WHEN precisely Anakin Skywalker happened, and that it was right after Plagueis and Sidious had raised someone from the dead for the first time, and done it over and over. Even more interesting that Plagueis had been playing with that very idea, a being created by the Force. To me, this is something that has the Father’s fingerprints all over it, especially since he wanted Anakin to be his replacement. So in a way, the prophecy about Anakin was completely correct, he WAS meant to bring balance to the Force in a far more penultimate role than even Lucas could have imagined. What makes this even more interesting is when you look back at the Dawn of the Jedi series of comics, and what the Jedi originally were as the Jed’aii. But that’s for another post (my next one in fact :-P).

As this is starting to get rather on the longside, I’ll leave you all with this: The Force is something that will continue to evolve, and likely change completely with the new trilogy of movies coming out as well as all of the tie-ins that are planned. Not to mention that the current EU will also probably end up dumped by the wayside (this saddens me greatly, but what can you do?). But we can be sure that with the evolution of the Force, and by extension the very foundation of Star Wars itself, that we’ll have new theories and ideas to keep interest in the philosophical and metaphysical side of that galaxy far, far away.

Join me later this week as we look at the origins of the Jedi, and I’m sure I’ll be returning to this topic sometime in the future (hopefully in the comments on this post, but if not at a later date). Thanks for reading, any thoughts and comments in general are appreciated.

Trimaj out.