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Before and After: Instructions Regarding Skywalker’s Son

Star Wars: Before and After the Special Editions
Instructions Regarding the Son of Skywalker

When we first saw The Empire Strikes Back in theaters, none of us was expecting Darth Vader to reveal that he was Luke’s father.  To be honest, even after the reveal, some of us were clinging to the hope that Vader was lying — biding our time between the second and third movies in discussions and debates about whether the Dark Lord of the Sith could actually be the father of Luke Skywalker.

Before telling Luke what really happened to his father, Darth Vader spoke to his Master about this “son of Skywalker”, revealing the plot to turn the young Jedi to the Dark Side.  In this brief holographic communication between Vader and the Emperor, we were treated to our first glimpse of this mysterious ruler of the galaxy.

When George Lucas revisited his classic trilogy, fans expected the voice and image of the Emperor to be altered to match the character as he was portrayed by Ian McDiarmid in Return of the Jedi.  What we didn’t expect was that the text of the transmission would be altered, as well.

In what was one of the best changes in all the Special Editions, the dialog between master and apprentice both conceals and reveals the reasons behind the plot to turn young Skywalker to the Dark Side or destroy him.  Consider the original version of this scene:

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Darth Vader
What is thy bidding, my Master?

Emperor
There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Darth Vader
I have felt it.

Emperor
We have a new enemy, Luke Skywalker.

Darth Vader
Yes, my Master.

Emperor
He could destroy us.

Darth Vader
He is just a boy.  Obi-Wan can no longer help him.

Emperor
The Force is strong with him.
The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

Darth Vader
If he could be turned he would become a powerful ally.

Emperor
Yes.  Yes.  He would be a great asset.  Can it be done?

Darth Vader
He will join us or die, Master.

From the beginning of the movie, we know that Darth Vader is obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker, dispatching probes throughout the galaxy.  What we didn’t know was that he was doing so without the knowledge or consent of the Emperor.  When he tells Vader that they have a new enemy, he calls him by name — Luke Skywalker.

After repeated viewings, made possible by the technological innovations of movie channels and videotapes, once we had accepted that Darth Vader had once been Anakin Skywalker, we began to question the reasons behind the Emperor’s transmission.  Had he truly only discovered the name of the pilot who had struck the fatal blow to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, or was he testing Vader to see if his search was spawned by less-than-Sithy motives?  Was he simply letting his apprentice know that he knew about the boy as well, warning him not to betray him?  What had first been simply a matter of plot exposition and foreshadowing began to reveal shadows of the Emperor’s devious scheming and manipulations as we watched the movie over and over.

When the Special Editions were released, the insidious nature of the Emperor became more pronounced as his references to Luke were less focused on the boy himself and emphasized the man behind the mask who now wore the name Darth Vader.  Notice the differences in the transmission in the 1997 version:

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Darth Vader
What is thy bidding, my Master?

Emperor
There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Darth Vader
I have felt it.

Emperor
We have a new enemy.
The young rebel who destroyed the Death Star.
I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.

Darth Vader
How is that possible?

Emperor
Search your feelings, Lord Vader; you will know it to be true.  He could destroy us.

Darth Vader
He is just a boy.  Obi-Wan can no longer help him.

Emperor
The Force is strong with him.
The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

Darth Vader
If he could be turned he would become a powerful ally.

Emperor
Yes, he would be a great asset.  Can it be done?

Darth Vader
He will join us or die, Master.

In the newer rendering, Luke’s name is never used.  He is called a “young rebel”, a “boy”, the “offspring of Anakin Skywalker”, and the “son of Skywalker”.  Although the Emperor considers young Skywalker a threat, perhaps it is not so much because of the boy himself, but due to the relationship between his own powerful apprentice and this newly discovered Force user.  Perhaps he had foreseen, either through a Force vision or simple deduction, that Vader would try to forge an alliance between father and son in an effort to overthrow the Emperor and rule in his place — which was exactly what Vader told Luke in their conflict at Cloud City.

When Return of the Jedi is viewed in light of this less personal interest the Emperor had in Luke, we can understand why he sought to have Luke kill Vader, taking his father’s place at his side.  If Luke won the battle, striking down his father in anger, he would have completed his journey to the Dark Side, and the Emperor would continue his new apprentice’s training.  Had Vader prevailed, the last link to his past would have been removed, making Darth Vader fully devoted to his master.  Either way, the Emperor’s apprentice would be more powerful from the conflict: a Vader no longer weakened by emotional ties to the past would be more capable of carrying out the Emperor’s orders, or an untrained Jedi would be more malleable than his father, able to be manipulated by his new master.  In either case, the victor would be the Emperor.  (Unless, of course, father and son work together against the Emperor — a proposition unimaginable to the arrogant dictator.)

In my opinion, the alteration in the Emperor’s dialog gives deeper insight into the machinations of the Emperor’s plan: to be the most powerful being in the galaxy.

What do you think?  Is the earlier version sufficient or does the Special Edition better show the motives behind Palpatine’s character?  Comment below or take the conversation to social media @shazbazzar on Twitter.

 

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Star Wars: Dark Disciple Review (contains spoilers)

Note: This article contains spoilers for the new book, Star Wars: Dark Disciple.

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Often in the real world do people lose themselves in the grasp of new love. They attempt to redefine themselves within the sheltering confines of a new relationship, only to emerge a changed version of the person that once was. We find that with Quinlan Vos, who falls in love with the enigmatic and exotic Asajj Ventress in Star Wars: Dark Disciple, the new novel by Christie Golden that was adapted from eight unaired scripts from The Clone Wars.

Vos, in his heady willingness to embrace new feelings of love, strays from the Jedi path he always knew and not only accepts a larger view of his emotional range, but also of the Force. And with this emotional bravery comes reciprocated feelings from the most unexpected person: Asajj Ventress, the one-time Sith acolyte turned yellow-lightsaber-wielding bounty hunter. Together, their relationship will force them each to face their past, as well as their affiliations to the dark side and the light, drawing in both the Jedi and the Sith as they grow into fully-formed beings of both light and dark that crave nothing more than freedom to be who they are.

However, it is one thing to be brought into the light after living a lifetime in darkness. It is quite another for a person who has lived in the light to fall to the dark.

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As a reader I found myself excited for Master Vos and his daring exploration of what it means for a good Jedi to know love. On the other hand, I became anxious for the man and his too-quick compromising of his core beliefs. This sort of change did not feel healthy, albeit far too realistic. Who hasn’t had a friend change overnight when starting a new romance?

However I think Master Vos’ willingness to embrace love was the right way; it is a complicated area of the Force that the Jedi never truly conquered. If anything can be learned from the fall of the republic and of the Jedi, it is that the Jedi Order did not grow and change. It did not iterate upon itself to become a more perfect organization of Force devotees, and in doing so became obsolete. Quinlan and Asajj were on the right path; if only they did not have death, destruction and the dark side to unite them in common purpose.

Master Vos’ willingness to accept the power that the dark side granted him was another thing altogether. Asajj led him down the wrong path, and it nearly consumed the man. Throughout the entire novel, I grappled with the idea that it was possible to control the dark side. It went against all Star Wars canon to this point. The dark side consumes; it takes exceptionally powerful Force users such as Anchorites or Chosen Ones to balance the Force. Unfortunately, Quinlan Vos was neither.

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I’m in an interesting position: I feel rather fortunate that I never knew the EU version of Quinlan Vos, who, for all accounts (and all my research), was a very interesting character. The Quinlan Vos I know is a glimpse of a background character in The Phantom Menace, a mere mention in Revenge of the Sith, and sadly, not much more than a caricature in a bizarre season three episode of The Clone Wars that actualy gave him a surfboard. Needless to say, there was a major opportunity to make something of the character in canon, and this novel does so exceedingly well. I had a clean slate for who this Vos is, and had nothing to compare and analyze. It was breath of fresh air to see his arc unfold without the trappings and baggage of previous work in the back of my head.

At the outset of the novel, Quinlan Vos is a good Jedi, perhaps a great one. He embraces the Force with a delight and happiness we see in Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and the self-awareness and experience of one who understands the ways of the Living Force. One wonders who Vos would have been if he never crossed Ventress. Who would he have become? Would he still have gone the same way? Clearly, his embrace of the dark side could not have been achieved without major doubt in the surety of the Jedi Order.

And to that point, the idea of an assassination attempt by the Jedi shows just how lost the order is. It is decidedly a bad idea, and not the way of the Force.  This seems like a last resort for an order of knights who have lost their way in the fog of war. As the dark side shrouded and impeded their ability to use the light side of the Force, they have made decisions that are worse and worse. This feels like an all-time low for the Order. Kenobi is at his best in the anticlimax of the book, reprimanding the Jedi Council on how they have lost their way.

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I am also relieved to see a genuine and deep friendship between Kenobi and Vos. It makes the younger Kenobi of The Clone Wars a more well-rounded character and less of a sarcasm machine for Anakin to bounce off. Kenobi’s depth is real, just as his admiration for Ventress is as well. It is always refreshing to understand a little more of Kenobi the man rather than Kenobi the master. Besides, who doesn’t love to see Kenobi in his natural habitat: a seedy bar!

The romance between Vos and Asajj is honest, well-won, and a pleasure to read. Golden is masterful in her development of this relationship, allowing the reader to see both points of view with equitable charity. Golden paints scenes with passion, sensuality and tenderness not often found in science fiction, and rounds the characters in ways not often seen in Star Wars. The romance in the first half of the book is legendary, and only sets up the tragedy of the second half to deliver upon.

At the outset, Vos and Ventress are at once complete opposites and kindred spirits. He is the optimist, a beacon of casual, unorthodox hope. She is world-weary and damaged, smoldering with anger at many futures lost. He is steadfast in his place in the universe, a loner who loves his friends and his home. She is lost, rejected at every turn, living day-to-day; a loner by necessity, not by choice. He seems to radiate unbounded light; she expounds a controlled darkness that’s apart from the ways of the Sith. Together, they forge their own way into a grey area of the Force based on the full range of their emotions, and it takes Vos to plunge into darkness and hate for Asajj to find her goodness.

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Despite the twists and turns that Quinlan Vos takes between the dark side and the light, not a page went by that I didn’t think of the line from Episode III: “In short, they are going very well. Saleucami has fallen, and Master Vos has moved his troops to Boz Pity.” I knew the character would end up there, but in what form? For a while, I wondered if Vos would be an enemy retreating to Boz Pity!

I do think there was an opportunity lost here. The Outer Rim sieges should have begun here. It would have been great to see this final conflict in the war, to see Asajj and Vos fighting side by side. And, of course, did Vos survive Order 66?

Additionally, there are many interesting things to be learned about Count Dooku in this book. As the years go by, it is clear that the Count is one of the more enigmatic characters in the saga. Was he truly a Sith? (Sort of.) Did he really want to overthrow Sidious with Kenobi’s help? It turns out that yes, he actually did. Dooku, like Ventress, sought to use the dark side but not be consumed by it. We identified as Sith, but by his own admission in the book, he was not “a normal Sith.” This clarity and insight into the character alone makes Dark Disciple a must-read.

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Surprisingly, one of the most boring parts of this book is the rather pedestrian adventures of Anakin and Obi-Wan. Anakin feels static; there’s nothing of the edgy, anger prone character from the Utapau arc. Where did he go? There was an opportunity to tie this book’s Anakin into the larger Star Wars saga here that was missed.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing scenes at the Nightsister village, where Asajj pressures Quinlan to take a step wholly unnatural in his slaying of the Sleeper. Such twisting and darkness was beautifully portrayed—but did you catch the multiple references to Dune? Time and again, Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi epic provides inspiration for Star Wars. Here, it all but confirms that the Nightsisters are directly inspired by the Bene Gesserit of Dune. First, they are both referred to as witches. Second, they both drink a substance known as the water of life as initiation, which provides insight and power. Third, the water of life is created by a creature that lives deep below the planet’s surface. Fourth, their organizations are led by “Mothers.” Fifth, the entire idea of “awakening the sleeper” is a direct reference to Dune’s Kwaisitch Haderach, who is referred to as a sleeper that must awaken. These are unmistakable markers for those in the know, and it is very satisfying to see Star Wars still drawing influence from such a rich source even 40 years later.

Finally, the end of this book merits special attention. As our character converge for final confrontation, we finally see Quinlan Vos brought back to the light side through his own choice He did it for love, and was redeemed from within. However, none of it would have been possible without a momentarily prescient vision from Ventress. What spurred this? It would seem to be an honest redemption of her place in the Force; an acceptance of the light side through her love of Vos that led to unlocking newfound powers. And, in doing so, she understood she must sacrifice herself to save her true love.

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In my accounting, Asajj Ventress was the first person in canon to die of Sith lightning. Not Luke, not Yoda, not Windu, not Palpatine, and not Vader (trust me; proof coming soon to RetroZap). Why did Ventress die, when all others did not? In my opinion, she accepted her destiny in this moment and allowed herself to succumb to this attack in a way others would not. Either that or Nightsisters are really vulnerable to it. No matter what, the redemption of Ventress, a character with over a decade of backstory behind her, was an absolute payoff, and the redemption of Vos was well deserved after his torture throughout this novel.

From a literary standpoint, Golden uses overuses litotes in her writing, creating paragraphs that cause a reader to be lifted out of the story. They stand out and feel unnatural in contrast to the other 99% of the book. I’d like to see this removed from her future works, as it does nothing to improve her considerable command of storytelling voice and pacing.

And, as for future work, I hope Golden writes many, many more Star Wars novels; she took what could have been a throwaway story that was never aired into an absolute classic of Star Wars storytelling. Honestly, I prefer this story as a novel; it allows us to get inside the minds of the characters and linger with their thoughts and motivations in a way that 22-minute animated storytelling just cannot do. It is far and away the best novel of the new canon. If this is the direction for the future, I am very, very pleased.

Prequel Dreams- TWL #119

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Jedi Visions: Insights or Opportunities?

Jedi Visions:
Mere Insights into the Future or Opportunities to Change Course?

In the most recent episode of Star Wars Rebels, “Vision of Hope”, Ezra Bridger has visions of fighting alongside Gall Trayvis, the self-styled “Senator in Exile” who has been the source of information (or misinformation) for the Ghost’s small band of rebels.  Despite Kanan’s warning to refrain from taking the visions too literally, Ezra chooses to act upon his insights, hoping to meet and work with this man he idolizes as a celebrity among rebel insurgents.

The events that transpire during this episode of Rebels has caused speculation among fans about whether acting on visions is encouraged among the Jedi.  (Check out RebelForce Radio’s Star Wars Rebels: Declassified episode from 4 February 2015 for their discussion about Jedi visions.)  Citing Yoda’s advice to both Skywalkers in the movies, it has been asserted that using Jedi visions as a guide for action is frowned upon by the Jedi Order.

Ezra's Vision 1

From the perspective of the movies’ initial release order, our introduction to acting upon Jedi visions is during Luke’s training on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.  While balancing in a handstand and levitating cargo crates and R2-D2 through the Force, Luke experiences a vision of Han and Leia suffering at Cloud City.  When Luke prepares to rush to their rescue, Yoda issues a warning: “Decide, you must, how to serve them best.  If you leave now, help them, you could, but you will destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.”

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Yoda, aware of the machinations and deceptions of the Dark Side, tries to persuade Luke to choose his path based on wisdom and discretion instead of emotion and attachment.  He beseeches him to continue his training instead of hurrying away to confront unknown threats unprepared.  Obi-Wan weighs in on the discussion, warning Luke that temptation awaits him if he leaves before he is fully trained.  Adamantly, the two Jedi Masters, Luke’s mentors, sternly attempt to steer him from acting rashly as he is spurred on by his visions of his friends’ pain.  Some see this as a possible judgment against acting upon Jedi visions of the future.

Anakin's Anger

In other instances, more blatantly foreboding in its decrying reliance on Jedi visions to govern one’s actions, are Anakin’s visions of his mother’s pain on Tatooine and later of Padme’s death in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, respectively.  Anakin’s nightmarish visions of his mother in peril causes him to leave his assigned post on Naboo in order to find and rescue Shmi from her Tusken captors.  When he discovers her, nearly dead at the abusive hands of the sand people, he erupts in a wrathful rage against the Tusken encampment, slaying men, women, and children indiscriminately.  Certainly, his willingness to allow himself to thoughtlessly follow his visions led to a growing darkness in his person — something that would manifest itself in the eventual rise of Darth Vader when he later acts on his visions of losing his wife during childbirth to the point that he betrays the Jedi Order and slaughters younglings in the temple in a vain attempt to save Padme’s life.

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For those who remember these bleak examples of the dangers of allowing Jedi visions to dictate a course of action, it seems reasonable to assume that the Jedi are not only cautious when it comes to such premonitions, but even to rationalize that acting on those visions is forbidden in the Jedi Order.

That is, until we consider what was revealed in the third season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars…

TCW Assassin Fortune Cookie.001In Season 3 of The Clone Wars, Episode 7 “Assassin”, Ahsoka has visions of Aurra Sing threatening to assassinate someone.  When she tells Yoda of her dreams, he informs her that she is having premonitions which can only be seen more clearly through meditation.  In saying this, he encourages her to focus on the visions — to seek to understand what they are telling her.  When she does so, she realizes that Senator Amidala is the one who is in danger of being assassinated.  She brings news of her visions to the Senator, who insists on going ahead with her plans to go to Alderaan in spite of Ahsoka’s warning.

Ahsoka's Vision Aurra Sing

Determined to get a better understanding of what she has seen, Anakin’s padawan returns to her chambers in the Jedi Temple to continue her meditation, resulting in further confirmation that Senator Amidala’s life is in danger.  When she tells Yoda of her concerns, Yoda responds with the familiar words, “always in motion is the future”.  Similar to his direction to Luke many years later, he provides Ahsoka with a choice of whether to act upon what she has seen: “Choose you must, how to respond to your visions.”

Ahsoka Consults Yoda

As she accompanies Padme on her mission to Alderaan as additional security, she is plagued with uncertainty about her visions and how she should act upon them.  Her dilemma is punctuated by a rash response to her vision that turned out to be either misunderstood or a possible variation of the future of which Yoda spoke.  Yet, when she is convinced to act upon a vision a second time, she interrupts an assassination attempt by deflecting Aurra Sing’s shot sufficiently to save Amidala’s life.

Later, when Ahsoka realizes that the would-be assassin was about to make another attempt on the senator’s life, she prevents the second attack and enables the capture of Aurra Sing.

When Ahsoka and Senator Amidala return safely to Coruscant, Yoda congratulates Anakin’s padawan for her choice to act upon her visions in defense of the senator’s life,  “Served you well, your visions have, young padawan.”  He then encourages her to peer more deeply into the matter through her increased insight to discover more about the plot to assassinate the senator from Naboo.  The additional details she provides brings about the confession of Ziro the Hutt who was already imprisoned on Coruscant.

Although Ezra’s visions in Star Wars Rebels “Vision of Hope” turned out to be misleading, it is not a blanket condemnation against using Jedi visions to determine an appropriate course of action — rather it is an admonition to beware of allowing emotions to cloud one’s insight and discipline oneself to spend time and thought in meditation in order to better interpret one’s visions.  As Kanan teaches Ezra in the epilogue, “Visions are difficult, almost impossible to interpret,” Jedi visions do not forbid action, but are to be considered in view of the complexity of an ever-changing future.