TCW Re-watch: Failings of the Jedi

Star Wars: The Clone Wars offered such a rich variety of stories that there are an endless array of lenses to approach the themes within the series, both those unique to it and those that elaborate on the subject matter of George Lucas’s six-film saga. I’ve gone into this re-watch with a few particular themes and contradictions on my mind, and the most current reviewed episode, “Mystery of a Thousand Moons” (1.18), touches on most of them.

Most interesting to me is the tension between the apparent necessity of the war in the moment in contrast to the audience’s foreknowledge that the Jedi’s mere entry into the war was the trap that doomed them. This narrative emerges clearly enough in the films with the end of Attack of the Clones, with Yoda’s admonition that “the shroud of the Dark Side has fallen.” Perhaps more subtly, that theme is present in the decision on the part of the Jedi and the Republic to assault a Separatist planet in the midst of heightened political tensions to rescue two Jedi and a Senator who had infiltrated that independent system to perform acts of political espionage, sabotage, and murder, and who were being punished under the laws of that system. While leaving the trio to execution would have been an unacceptable ending to audiences and would have seemed too merciless, and while viewers know that the Separatists were preparing their own attack on the Republic, interfering with the laws of another government via open invasion is a shockingly imperialistic act for a group of alleged peacekeepers. And, of course, that theme of loss merely through engagement sees fruition in the collapse of the Jedi and the Republic in Revenge of the Sith.

The Clone Wars readily acknowledges this burden. Yoda does a lot of wrangling with this moral crisis and imminent loss throughout the series. While that’s perhaps most emphasized in the final season’s episodes, the theme is present in moments with Yoda–and in merely observing what the war does to Jedi and clones alike–throughout the show. As Yoda says in “Lair of Grievous” (1.10), “To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is of losing who we are.”

And this theme manifests in at least small ways in almost every episode. Returning to “Mystery of a Thousand Moons,” we see the Jedi once again putting innocents in harm’s way in an attempt to win a battle. In this case, Ahsoka, Padme, and several clone troopers are infected with a super-virus and almost die before Anakin and Obi-Wan can provide a cure. Padme’s a senator. Ahsoka is literally a child who is nonetheless invested with the powers of a military commander. And the clones have been manufactured to fight and–as Rex notes in the episode–to die, yet the Jedi were perfectly willing to enlist them and use them as though they lacked in personhood or choice (a damning decision no matter how many Jedi befriended them between battles).

Yet that super-virus is another example of the seeming necessity of the war. The recreation of the Blue Shadow Virus for biological war in “Mystery of a Thousand Moons” and in the virus’s eponymous episode (1.17) is a shocking atrocity, intended to quickly wipe out whole ecosystems on hundreds of planets. In the same arc, the Separatists have blockaded a planet with a force field that kills anyone who tries to leave orbit, seemingly with the intent of preventing the export of the one raw material that can be used to produce a cure to the virus. Similarly, in “Defenders of Peace” (1.14), the Separatists intend to test a weapon that wipes out all organic life in its blast radius but leaves droids behind–and their intended target is a village of pacifists. Messaging consistently reinforces a pro-war mentality, at least in the moment. “Defenders of Peace” and its companion “Jedi Crash” (1.13) have no room for pacifists; the ideology is portrayed as too naive to actually survive without outside intervention by occupying defenders. Certainly there are historical precedents where passive resistance or acquiescence have not halted or appeased a bloodthirsty oppressor. Yet, to complicate things further, the “Jedi Crash” arc is immediately followed by “Trespass” (1.15), which actually provides for a scenario in which peaceful diplomacy is the ideal solution in contrast to aggressive interventionism.

If nothing else, the show highlights how messy war and conflict are. Moral solutions are not always apparent. The Jedi, even early on in the show, frequently cross the line of acceptable behavior, but that line-crossing often achieves results. For specific examples, contrast “Cloak of Darkness” (1.9), in which Ahsoka brushes off Master Luminara Unduli’s warning that “terror is not a weapon the Jedi use” because her threat, which does (momentarily) convince an imprisoned Nute Gunray to cooperate, “wasn’t serious,” with Anakin’s threat in “Mystery of a Thousand Moons” to kill mad scientist Nuvo Vindi completely failing to produce results (and actually giving Vindi another opportunity to gloat).

Lastly, one little item of head canon that I’ve been toying with for a while is that some version of the Mandalorian Wars and the subsequent Jedi Civil War of Knights of the Old Republic actually happened, and that this resulted in a radical shift in Jedi dogma. We at least have confirmation of a Mandalorian-Jedi War, but it’s the latter war that’s more significant to me. Revan and Malak rushed off to join the Republic in defeating the Mandalorians, in opposition to the Jedi Order’s mandate to stay out of the war, but their experiences turned them to the Dark Side. Revan’s later redemption was the only thing that could stop Malak, and he went on to pursue a larger threat outside of the galaxy. Other Jedi who went to war did not necessarily fall to the Dark Side. The Jedi Exile, for instance, chose a life of nomadic wandering following her actions at the Battle of Malachor (a battle that has been partially introduced to the canon, as well). Her eventual return to the major events of the galaxy stopped another festering Sith threat, and it is implied that she and her disciples helped rebuild a decimated Jedi Order. (Light Side decisions and their resultant outcomes in video games were typically perceived to be closer to canon during the run of the EU, and even in this canon-reboot era, that assumption seems to me a valid starting point for discussing the state of the old EU lore.)

The implications of the first two games are cast to the wind to enable the direction of The Old Republic and its companion novels, like Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan, which conveniently wiped Revan and the Jedi Exile off the board. I’m not so impressed by the idea of Jedi and Sith joining together to combat a larger threat; it happened surprisingly often in the old EU, it seems counter to the core messaging of Lucas’s films, and it seems like something that exists in Star Wars: The Old Republic largely as a justification for players to join the Sith faction without necessarily being pure evil. So let’s set aside the implications of everything post-KOTOR II.

With that division of the franchise in place, I rather like the idea that Revan, the Jedi Exile, and their followers would have forced a radical rethink in Jedi philosophy. Perhaps the Jedi, over time, would have felt that earlier official involvement by the Jedi Order in curbing the Mandalorian expansion would have stopped a lot of cruelty and death–and would have prevented the rise of the Sith Lords that followed. The Jedi Exile, in particular, would have been a model for a more interventionist Jedi Knight. This change in doctrinal thinking could have resulted in an over-correction that could have made the Jedi all too willing to hop into aggressive pursuit of peacekeeping operations. The reform spirit of the Jedi Exile would have faded into institutional tradition over the centuries, such that the shift in Jedi mindset would have only served as another pillar of dogmatic thought for later generations of Jedi leaders. Such a mindset would have primed them to hop straight into the Clone Wars, before cooler heads (mostly a more reflective Yoda) could prevail, and with the assumption that they were fully in the right. I think The Clone Wars and its depiction of the last years of the Jedi Order provide some ammo for that theory.

(By the way, in my full version of this head canon, which veers hard into amorphously formed fan fiction, Bultar Swan offers a lot of storytelling possibilities as a potential Jedi who quickly sees the entry of the Jedi into the business of war as detrimental. I tend to imagine her getting the hell out of the Order and the war shortly after Geonosis, after seeing just what it takes to kill and seeing the Jedi leadership all too willing to keep going down that path. But that’s getting way off topic for this post.)

I don’t plan on regularly discussing The Clone Wars over the course of this re-watch, but I do suspect that I’ll have an occasional update as this gradual viewing continues. I’ve only watched the show in full once before, and this new trip through has been quite enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Swan Watch: Clone Wars Adventures

Bultar Swan stars in “Impregnable,” the third story in the short comic anthology of Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures Volume 7. The script’s by Chris Avellone, with art by Ethen Beavers and colors by Dan Jackson. It’s a fine little action story. Swan, her forces demolished, strides into an allegedly impregnable fortress, slowly dismantling defenses and sealing the surviving commander inside. Locking an opponent in as the life support fails is more “Cask of Amontillado” than Jedi Code, though. I thought the story worked well enough for the format, but I was very disappointed by the use of Bultar Swan as the protagonist. This seems to go against what little character development had already been established for her. A ruthless killer willing to leave someone to die is basically antithetical to what interested me about her in the first place. (And while it goes unaddressed, her ability to simply walk into the fortress certainly suggests she might have sacrificed wave after wave of soldiers for little purpose.)

Plus, she’s silent the whole time, while the despotic villain in the fortress core taunts her throughout. It’s not an unheard-of form of storytelling, and it can work well, but her silence and martial prowess evoke uncomfortable comparisons to the silent, stoic Asian martial artist cliche. In this light, the otherwise forgivable caricature of her facial features that is typical of the style of art employed comes off as a way to accent her Asian-ness while removing much of the character’s resemblance to her film counterpart. There’s even one panel where her face is bathed in a greenish light (which does not affect the warm colors behind her), calling up comparisons to the racist and offensive imagery portraying villainous Asians in mid-twentieth-century America.

Outside of this rather disappointing Swan appearance, I overall enjoyed the anthology, which captured the visuals and action-packed fun of the television miniseries. The first story, “Creature Comforts” (script and art by The Fillbach Brothers, colors by Ronda Pattison) was a near pitch-perfect portrayal of war hero Obi-Wan and Anakin at their wittiest while being tossed from monster to monster. The one misstep is at the end, when Obi-Wan rather cruelly crushes a tiny crab “monster” to stop its cry. It’s meant to be funny but makes Obi-Wan seem like a sociopath rather than a kindly, wizened Jedi Master.

The other two tales try out a girl-power spy story (“Spy Girls,” script by Ryan Kaufman, art by Stewart McKenny, colors by Dan Jackson) and a bank heist gone wrong (“The Precious Shining,” script by Jeremy Barlow, art by the Fillbach Brothers, colors by Ronda Pattison). I might have enjoyed the last story the most, as it showed people caught between the Republic and the Separatists. It presented a level of moral nuance, and a more down-to-earth perspective, that was more likely to be found in the later Filoni-helmed series on the Clone Wars, though it ends in a simple twist of fortune.

The anthology was slender and quick to read. It was mostly fun. Too bad that this was my least favorite portrayal of Bultar Swan yet. At least she got to be an action hero for a little while.

Bultar Swan Watch

I’ve been following 365 Days of Star Wars Women, which is exactly what it says on the tin: daily posts about the women in Star Wars–and not just the heroes and villains, but the actors, writers, producers, and film crew as well. It’s a fun way to highlight women’s representation in front of and behind the camera in a franchise that still leans heavily male both ways. I bring this up now because Bultar Swan recently got a post! I’ve written about my fondness for the character before…and it’s not often that she gets much notice.

20171001_150537I’ve reviewed the Powers of the Jedi Sourcebook entry on Jedi Knight Bultar Swan once more. It’s not just that such a minor background character had a write-up, though that was enough to get my attention as a youngling. What’s stayed with me about her is that she was a Jedi who was so familiar with violence and yet made a point to avoid killing in combat. The Jedi are depicted as quite willing to kill, despite Yoda’s admonition that a Jedi “uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” It’s veering on an uncomfortable reduction of Chinese martial arts that Swan is written as notable for a unique fighting style “that required her to maintain physical contact with her foes to judge their next moves,” but that fits into the character profile of one who focused on defense and disarming attacks to subdue, rather than disable or kill, an opponent. She knew there would probably come a point in time where she would have to kill an opponent, and while she apparently did not take pride in her mortality-free combat record, she was concerned with how she would react to the taking of a life. She first apprenticed under Micah Giett and then Plo Koon following her Master’s death; when Master Plo mentioned the possibility of her one day joining the Jedi Council, Swan said that she would not be anywhere near ready “until she had more experience with life and the Force,” including understanding how she would react to killing an opponent, before she could sit in judgment over any other Jedi. To me, all the above made Bultar Swan the model Jedi, much like Obi-Wan.

But that opinion must not have been very popular, as she remained virtually unused throughout the years of Legends storytelling following her initial appearance in Attack of the Clones, in which she was portrayed by Mimi Daraphet (Power of the Jedi was published in the same year as the film). The closest to starring role for Bultar Swan was the first arc of the Purge comics. Written by John Ostrander with art by Doug Wheatley, the first story followed a group of Jedi survivors of Order 66 who met in a secret conclave to discuss what to do next; one of the Order had actually betrayed the location of the conclave to the Empire, so that her fellow Jedi would be forced to fight against Vader and hopefully destroy him in a final battle. Swan and Tsui Choi are close to protagonists–to the extent that the protagonist isn’t Vader himself. Swan and Choi argue against seeking revenge against Vader. When they are forced into battle anyway, Swan attempts to stop one of her Jedi by giving in to the Dark Side, and she is killed by her fallen compatriot when he refuses to back down.

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For me, Purge represents a disappointing appearance for Bultar Swan. She has little agency over the story, and she is quickly transformed into a martyr, killed off. I recognize that a story like Purge doesn’t allow for a happy ending, and almost all the Jedi had to be killed off somehow, but aside from highlighting Swan’s embodiment of the Jedi Code, it doesn’t really do anything with her as a character. She’s a prop to show Vader killing some last, desperate Jedi.

Bultar Swan also has a very brief appearance in the 59th issue of Star Wars: Republic (also written by Ostrander, with art by Jan Duursema). Unfortunately, she just provides a few moments of exposition as a subordinate under Ki-Adi-Mundi.

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The 365 Days post references one other Bultar Swan appearance: Clone Wars Adventures Volume 7, in the story “Impregnable.” I’ve never read it, but it turns out that it’s fairly cheap and easy to find online. I’ve ordered a copy. That’ll probably result in a short follow-up to this post somewhere down the line. But given that it’s Clone Wars Adventures, a pulpy action series modeled after the Genndy Tartakovsky cartoons, I don’t expect anything close to a deep examination of the character.

Finally, Wookieepedia informs me that Swan also appeared in the children’s series Star Wars Adventures. I’m not particularly desperate to track that down for what seems to be a minor appearance in a children’s book.

Of course, all of the above representations of Bultar Swan, except for Attack of the Clones, are now non-canon, Legends. The character could be written in an entirely different way now, if she ever really appears at all. Her only new-canon appearance so far is in On the Front Lines by Daniel Wallace. Her character is presented as young, inexperienced, and surprised to see opponents willing to fight back instead of surrender before a lightsaber. There’s nothing that suggests that the original interpretation of the character is invalidated, but I do get the impression that Swan still has a lot more growing to do in this incarnation. It’s enough to know that she canonically survived the battle and was able to recount it, for now.

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What happens to Bultar Swan after she gets a taste of war? Does she soldier on, like a loyal Jedi? Does she recoil at the taking of life? Could she at first be accepting but later rethink the Jedi’s methods as the droids are recognized as increasingly sentient? Maybe she would stay loyal; maybe she would eventually become disillusioned and leave the Jedi Order, like Ahsoka, or stay to attempt to reform it from the inside. Could she have survived the Purge? And if not, how did she meet her end? She’s an excitingly blank slate of a character with just enough motivation and just enough dangling plot threads to remain compelling to me. I really hope that some day she sees more use.

On The Front Lines: Extra Notes

In my review of Star Wars: On The Front Lines, I mostly talked about the narrative, but I really loved the art too. Writer Dan Wallace and artists Adrián Rodriguez, Thomas Wievegg, Aaron Riley, and Fares Maese (and of course the associated editorial/publishing team) produced an excellent product. The image at the top of this post is an example of some of that beautiful artwork; I’ll abstain from sharing any other images because you should check the book out for yourself.

If you haven’t looked through the book yet, though, you should probably stop reading here. While the book recounts major battles from the films and from The Clone Wars show, it does actually include a number of potential spoilers when it fleshes out additional details. And I want to talk about some of those details!

First, the level of diversity in these pages is great, with the focus on characters like Jedi Knight Bultar Swan, Jedi Master Mace Windu, Coruscant Home Fleet Commander Honor Salima (a woman of color and Republic officer who appears to have been invented for this book), Grand Moff Randd, and Resistance pilot Jess Pava. We also get a spotlight on a lot more aliens: Gungan General Ceel; separatists like Geonosian Archduke Poggle the Lesser, Kerkoiden General Whorm Loathsom, Techno Union Emir Wat Tambor, and cyborg General Grievous; Twi’lek freedom fighter Cham Syndulla and Twi’lek refugee Numa; Ewok chief Chirpa; Mon Cal Admirals Raddus and Ackbar; Sullustan smuggler Nien Nunb; Resistance pilot Ello Asty; and a new personal favorite of mine, Ranat commando Musmuris Reetgeet. With the addition of perspectives of droids and clones, this feels to me like a highlight of meaningful diversity in Star Wars, with diverse characters in diverse roles that don’t (to me, at least) come off as mere tokenism. This is truly a whole galaxy involved in war. Of course, there are plenty of perspectives from white characters, especially white men–and honestly, some of those perspectives are my favorite (I’ll touch on a couple examples later).

Okay, so the next thing I want to bring up is that it’s great to have Bultar Swan show up. Aside from her brief appearance in Episode II, I think this represents her first new canon appearance, and it confirms that she survived Geonosis! I’d like to see more stories with her. I’ve been somewhat fascinated by Bultar Swan ever since she showed up in the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Roleplaying Game supplement, Power of the Jedi Sourcebook.

20171001_150537 Instead of just another background Jedi, she had a deeper story. I thought that was cool. Most of the alien Jedi in the Battle of Geonosis have gone on to have stories told about them. Not all of the humans have more than a name and likeness. I don’t think there were ever that many stories about Bultar Swan, but she’s basically a complete enigma in the new canon.

That’s all to say that the character remains rather intriguing to me because of the mysteriousness of her background. I’d enjoy seeing her explored more. The brief excerpt in On The Front Lines that is written from her perspective seems reflective of her older personality, but there’s plenty of room for this character to grow.

 

 

I liked the reexamination of more well-known characters, as well. For example: I’ve always had a soft spot for Rebel fighter ace and Rogue Squadron pilot Wedge Antilles, the man who survived both Death Stars, and reading the section in his perspective was brutal. Wedge reflects,

I survived the Battle of Yavin, and for a long time, a part of me wished I hadn’t.

. . .

When a laser blast from one of [the TIEs] melted my micromaneuvering controls, I was done. I couldn’t continue the run. I had to get out of the trench. If I had stayed, I would have fishtailed into Biggs and taken us both out.

I apologized over the comm and pulled out of the trench. For just a moment I felt my fear turn into relief. That’s the moment I always think about. That’s the moment that hardened into guilt.

Poor Wedge! What a real emotion, what a sincere experience in this fantasy galaxy. And I think it gives Wedge a clearly defined narrative arc in the films, one that would not otherwise be there (at least explicitly). Wedge keeps trying to make up for that moment, and maybe he finally does when he helps to take down the second Death Star. At least, I sure hope he found some peace of mind in doing so (here I am, talking about this fictional character like he’s a real person–what can I say, the writing here worked really well).

And Nien Nunb, who got to have more of an interesting story and personality in the new canon’s Princess Leia comic, has a pretty funny and sassy section in which he cheers the superiority of smugglers in the Rebellion.

One character revision that certainly stood out to me, though I didn’t necessarily like it, involves Hobbie Klivian (the image at the top is from this section). As you may know, in the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, Hobbie is dying in a crippled snowspeeder and directs it into General Veers’s AT-AT, apparently killing them both. The novelization concludes the scene as follows, from the perspective of General Veers:

At that instant, Hobbie’s burning ship crashed through the walker cockpit like a manned bomb, its fuel igniting into a cascade of flame and debris. For a second there were human screams, then fragments, and the entire machine crashed to the ground.

This death scene does not appear in the film. It could not happen offscreen exactly as written, either. In the novelization, Hobbie appears to interrupt Veers’s attack on the shield generator. But in the film, Veers survives at least long enough to personally destroy the shield generator.

In the old canon, a version of the crash did occur. In this version, Hobbie and his gunner ejected in time, and he went on to become an important figure in the X-Wing franchise of comics and novels (confession: as beloved by fans as the series is, I never read the books and only saw maybe a couple issues of the comics). Veers, meanwhile, was left disabled by the attack, although he continued to serve in the military as well.

Hobbie’s kamikaze death has been restored–and there’s no way he got pulled from the wreckage this time. The first sentence of Hobbie’s section notes his “heroic death.”

What I’m worried about now is the fate of General Veers. Apparently Hobbie crashed into Blizzard One, the lead AT-AT, just as in the old canon. As I’ve previously mentioned, General Veers is my favorite Imperial of the films and one of the few Imperial officers who is actually competent. Dan Wallace recognizes this competence, writing of Veers that he was a “brilliant tactician” whom “Darth Vader respected . . . for his eerily calm demeanor under fire.” I saw nothing definitive about what happened to Veers in the book. It certainly seems likely that he is dead. But he could have survived, evacuating the AT-AT in time. Maybe he was badly injured in this new canon version and will once again return to active military service. I hope so. It’s always more interesting when the Rebellion actually has a challenging and recurring foe. And I suppose I don’t love the idea of Veers dying in a nearly identical way to Piett, killed by a damaged kamikaze craft when his forces are overextended.

At this point, I could go on and on, but I’ve covered the things that most fascinated me about the book (though I have to name-drop Musmuris Reetgeet again, because he’s a cool guy). It’s a great Star Wars reference book, and it’s also a lovely art book. I hope there are more guides like this released for the new canon!