Back to Star Wars, Hard

The true Star Wars faithful gathered for Celebration in Chicago over this weekend. I was not one of them. Yet the trailer for The Rise of Skywalker was enough to light the fire in my heart once more. It never really goes it. Sometimes, it settles to embers, but there’s always been something to reignite it.

So while I was not in Chicago, I still had a weekend that was overly devoted to Star Wars. After seeing the trailer at work on Friday, I struggled to stay focused on anything other than Star Wars, and I watched Return of the Jedi when I got home (between the second Death Star and Palpatine, it was Episode VI that the new trailer most put into my mind). I’d already been reading the Ahsoka novel, so I read some more of that. I dived back into Battlefront II and Empire at War. And now I’m writing a post about Star Wars again.

That trailer looks so good to me! There are so many mysteries, and I’m eager to see it. Experience has shown that I’m more excited for new saga films over anything else in the franchise, and the trailers for these movies are always great. Each time, it takes at least the first teaser to get me to finally acknowledge how excited I am. I’d actually been saying last week or so that I felt like The Last Jedi felt like a fair conclusion to the sequel trilogy and would have been an acceptable place to end the saga, so while I was curious to see what they’d do, I didn’t feel like anything was missing or unjustifiably incomplete. Now, though, there are so many tantalizing details, and I’m really eager to see what kind of story is being told here!

The other Star Wars announcements mattered less to me, as usual. I’ll probably get to much, though not all, of the new stuff eventually. The Jedi: Fallen Order game looks disappointing to me. I think there are already enough stories about Jedi on the run during the Dark Times, and the trailer felt very much so like a Light Side version of The Force Unleashed, a game I didn’t really get into at the time. And the protagonist appears to be another bland white dude. That all said, I’m sort of starved for a narrative-focused Star Wars game, and while I’d prefer an RPG, I’ll take this! Which means…maybe I’ll be looking into another console sooner than I thought? I love the Switch and Switch games, but it’d be nice to play more of the Star Wars games coming out. If I do get another console, it’ll probably be a PS4. I’m more interested in the exclusive titles available there versus the Xbox One.

Oh, speaking of Star Wars RPGs, VG247 had an article about Obsidian Entertainment’s planned plot for Knights of the Old Republic III. I really wish that game had happened. The Old Republic was reasonably fun, but I’ve never cared for MMOs and have always preferred single-player experiences. A mark in Fallen Order‘s favor is that Chris Avellone, formerly Obsidian writer for games like KOTOR II, is one of the writers for this new game.

Last thing I want to get to: I played a shocking amount of Empire at War this weekend and finally beat the Rebellion campaign. Yes, it was on Easy, but now I can mark both of the main campaign modes on my list of completed adventures (it was years ago, but I’m pretty sure I won the Empire campaign on Easy too). I mostly had fun, and I just pushed through the point I normally get burnt out. The gameplay just doesn’t mesh with the Rebellion-on-the-run feel that the setting, and the game’s story, establishes. But I’ve complained about that before. (Although I could complain now about some story issues I had, mostly related to the larger continuity. Just for instance, this came out after Revenge of the Sith and benefited from the expanded lore and setting of that film, but it didn’t include Bail Organa in the formative rebellion in any substantial way, and it had Captain Antilles affiliated with Mon Mothma instead of Bail for some reason, switching over to the Tantive IV only towards the end of the game.)

There is, however, something very interesting thing that the game did: after Alderaan’s destruction, the Death Star immediately set course for Yavin IV. I barely got Mon Mothma out in time. I defeated the Death Star’s support fleet, but with no Red Squadron, I still lost the moon. The Death Star then destroyed Wayland (a planet I’d conquered after the early story mission, because why not, and which I successfully defended from a later invasion attempt). Finally, Han showed back up with Luke and the droids, and I could send a sizable fleet to win the battle and leave the Death Star’s destruction to Luke. That final fight played out in the stellar wreckage of Wayland. There are three reasons why I like those developments:

  1. Everything happening is so sudden, shocking, and unpredictable. It puts you in the mindset of the fledgling Rebel Alliance as it faces potential devastation, with no obvious way out. I expected Luke to show up, I expected a warning before the Alderaan destruction cinematic, I expected the game to be predictable and give me time like it had at every other stage. I couldn’t rely on convention or the film’s narrative. It made me feel a little anxious and desperate, then really relieved when Luke finally showed up.
  2. It clearly established this narrative as an Alternate Universe. Sure, this was before the canon reset, but the implication up until that point is that we might have been playing a game that was supposed to be telling a definitive story of the Rebellion. Even if we had to ignore the gameplay and the narrative-defying conquest of the galaxy in the name of the Rebels, the core story being told could be seen as “truth.” The ending relaxes those rules and says, no, this is just a fun story, hope you enjoyed playing with the toys. Any galactic conquest mode to follow is more playing in the sandbox, no more or less “true.”
  3. It actually disrupted the conquest-focused gameplay and returned the emphasis to Rebels barely staying a step ahead of an over-powerful Empire. Too bad the rest of the game isn’t like that…

That’s more than enough about that game, but before I drop the subject entirely, let me quickly show you a story in four images:

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Now, will I ever play the Forces of Corruption campaign? Maybe. More unlikely things have happened (like finishing the Rebellion campaign), and my Star Wars appetite is currently insatiable and probably will remain so through December!

New Star Wars Favorites

One of the best parts about reading the ever-expanding new-canon Star Wars literature is encountering so many cool new characters. And there are so many cool new characters!

Many of my new favorites are from Lost Stars. Thane and Ciena are such an interesting couple, so compatible and yet torn apart by fundamentally opposed worldviews. It’s not just that they happen to choose different loyalties. It’s that loyalty is a fundamental virtue in Ciena’s valley kindred culture, while Thane comes from a wealthy and abusive family, causing him to look skeptically on authority and leaving him without that same sacred devotion to loyalty. Their conflicting worldviews often result in misunderstanding each other’s intentions, not always because of a silly breakdown in communication but because they look at the same facts and can have the same attitudes but intuitively arrive at different reactions.

But both characters are cool on their own. Watching Ciena’s rise through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, even as she grows increasingly disgusted with it, was intriguing. And Thane is a brash hotshot pilot, a redheaded former smuggler who joins the Rebel Alliance just before Hoth and helps take down an AT-AT in that battle. What I’m saying, in other words, is that he’s basically Dash Rendar, if he was better written, not video-game-overpowered, and without the ’90s comic book pad-and-strap fashion.

But I also loved the awkward, empathetic genius Jude Edivon (gone too soon!). And Alderaanian Nash Windrider’s descent into Imperial fanaticism to cope with the loss of his home planet was an interesting (and surprisingly believable) twist. And I love basically every Wookiee ever, so I have a definite fondness for Lohgarra, the maternal elderly Wookiee free-trader who hires Thane on after he defects from the Empire and who eventually joins him in the Rebellion.

But it’s not just Lost Stars. I didn’t particularly love Battlefront, but the distant, cold bounty hunter Brand was fascinating. Okay, yes, distant, cold bounty hunter is a cliche. So is ice-blood sniper. But Brand had this weird loyalty to Twilight Company. After years slowly becoming disillusioned with the bounty hunter trade under the solidifying Galactic Empire, she found something in Twilight and its leader, Captain Howl. While she seems remote and uncaring, seldom chiming in and often slipping off without a farewell, she looks out for the soldiers in her squad. She becomes something awfully close to the heart of Twilight Company as Namir tries to figure out what to do when thrust into the leadership role. She doesn’t really have an arc in Battlefront because we see she’s already completed her own journey to arrive at the point she’s in. I’d love to see more of Brand (and some of the other badass new-canon bounty hunters like Cad Bane, Sabine Wren, and Ketsu Onyo). Gadren the warrior-poet Besalisk was a fun Twilight Company character, too, if even more of an archetype (I mean, his easiest description is warrior-poet).

I even really liked the quirky Givin mathematician Drusil Bephorin from Heir to the Jedi. She had a weird sense of humor, she often seemed to have such a cold detachment because of her math-and-logic-focused perspective, and yet she was committed to her family above all else. I was also partial to the Kupohan noodle chef and spy Sakhet; the Rodian weapons seller and Jedi fan Taneetch Soonta; and the wealthy biotech heir, expert sharpshooter and scout, and Rebel sympathizer Nakari Kelen, who would become an ill-fated romantic interest of Luke Skywalker (unfortunately introducing Luke’s romantic curse into the new canon, it would seem).

And I can’t forget that A New Dawn made me really interested in Kanan and Hera (and a shipper of their relationship before I’d seen an episode of Rebels), plus introduced me to the coolest bad guy in the form of Rae Sloane (whose characterization is also excellent in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, which I recently finished reading).

Finally, while not new characters, technically, I couldn’t be happier with the lovable losers Kabe and Muftak as portrayed in “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” story in From a Certain Point of View.

That’s all to say that more than just having fun new adventures, the new books have given me a variety of new characters that I care about, and I hope that many of them will have more stories moving forward. Rather than just applying the same old Star Wars archetypes, or only following the heroes from the films, the new canon’s already done a lot of cool new things.

I’m several books behind at this point, but I’m not tired of them yet, and I continue to look forward to future installments.

 

Lost Stars

Lost StarsLost Stars by Claudia Gray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lost Stars is a lovely Star Wars novel. It’s obviously marketed as a young adult novel, with its flashy hardback cover design, stout layout, and large-font print, and that makes sense: it’s focused on the relationship between a young man and a young woman, starting when they are children. I admittedly have a bias against YA literature. But I enjoyed the book all the same; it was a good Star Wars novel not in spite of its centralized romantic focus, but because of it.

Over the course of the novel, we see Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree bond over a love of flight, attend the Royal Academy for Imperial officer training on Coruscant, and eventually split apart as a result of the Galactic Civil War. Thane, disillusioned and cynical and anti-authoritarian, refuses to serve the Empire after seeing more and more of its atrocities; he eventually finds purpose by joining the Rebel Alliance, at first fighting against the Empire but later fighting for the values of the movement to restore the Republic. Ciena’s deep-seated loyalty and near-sacred emphasis on honor (traits carefully developed early on as distinctly part of her valley kindred culture) mean that she is unwilling to betray the Empire by leaving it even as she becomes increasingly disenchanted with it. But while they find themselves on opposing sides, and sometimes quite out of touch with what each other actually thinks, they still remain in love despite themselves.

Claudia Gray really sells the relationship. She obviously has a great ability to clearly convey how one feels. And this book revolves around emotions–not just love or loneliness, but anger and fear and passion and fanaticism, loss and sorrow, frustration, excitement, joy, and deep depression. All of the main cast of characters–largely consisting of people Ciena and Thane initially met in the Imperial Academy, but later bolstered by Thane’s friends from his free merchant days and his squad mates in the Rebellion–are portrayed as whole characters, and even though the plot remains narrowly focused on Ciena and Thane, we get glimpses of the others’ motivations and desires. (It’s pretty perfect that there’s a manga adaptation, given the relationship focus in a sci-fi setting in general and more specifically the military academy subplot for like a third of the book.)

Interestingly, we also get to hear a lot of rationalizations for why characters do what they do, why they make and break certain promises, why they believe in certain things. For Ciena and Thane, we see how their life experiences shape their thoughts and decisions. But for many other characters, there are intense political discussions to explain loyalty or disloyalty to the Empire. Ciena and her friends are able to accept the Death Star and its destruction of Alderaan using language reminiscent of those who defend the use of atomic bombs by the United States at the end of World War II. And even the second Death Star makes more sense here–while Ciena finally loses all faith in the Empire, her friends see it as necessary to finally break the fighting spirit of the Rebels. I think there’s an echo of the continued development and storage of ever-more-powerful nuclear weapons in the real world. There are even arguments about resisting the Empire versus attempting to change it from within, conversations that feel all-too-real. The Empire remains very evil, and those who stay with it are gradually corrupted by it, regardless of their intentions; what might that say about our nation’s own failures and about those who remain blindly patriotic to it?

In short, in addition to wonderfully developed relationships, this novel also delivers on some of the most explicitly political commentary in the new canon. While the Empire is evil and the Rebellion is good, there are a lot of gray area discussions and a lot of rationalizations for bad actions in good causes or good actions in bad causes. While the political commentary may be explicit, it’s explicitly about a fantasy universe, and the conventions of the Star Wars universe make it difficult to draw one-to-one comparisons to our sociopolitical reality. But it’s a book that rewards close attention, careful consideration, and interpretation.

It’s not just political commentary that rewards careful attention, though. Gray deploys foreshadowing in the early chapters that pays off rather well in the climactic conclusion. There are recurrent phrases or descriptions that reinforce theme. And there are many little nods to the larger Star Wars continuity.

Because of this, a minor flaw in the book bothered me just a little bit more. From time to time, small elements of continuity or terminology seemed to break down. (For one example, on page 334 we are told that Ciena remains aboard her Star Destroyer rather than going down to Cloud City, but on the following page, she’s suddenly moving through the city on a mission without any explanatory transition.) It’s possible that later printings or editions fix at least some of this, and it’s never a big deal, but it just distracts.

One other thing bothered me a little bit. Lost Stars reframes many events from the Original Trilogy and ties them into fallout from the Clone Wars as well as the events that would eventually lead to the Sequel Trilogy; this is often fun and rewarding. But it also gets a little too coincidental. There are just too many big moments from the films that these characters witness. They’re always on a particular deployment or taking part in the right service to be virtually everywhere: the destruction of Alderaan, the Dantooine base investigation and aftermath of the Death Star’s destruction, Hoth, Cloud City (where Ciena disables the Millennium Falcon‘s hyperdrive), Palpatine’s arrival on the second Death Star, the battle of Endor, and so on, including tie-ins to the new trilogy by way of the battle of Jakku. (And Ciena is part of the ploy that reveals to the Rebels that Palpatine will be heading to the second Death Star, while Thane is a fighter pilot spy who uncovers that intel.) Then there are all the character cameos, including Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin, Admiral Piett, Admiral Ozzel, Princess Leia, Dak Ralter, Wedge Antilles, General Rieekan, Admiral Ackbar, Mon Mothma, General Madine, and Lando (plus references to characters like Luke and Han). The sheer enormity of direct references to the films gets a little bit old–but ties into the coincidental intersections that Ciena believes are due to the Force’s influence (thankfully, no major character has Force powers). If you can swallow all the crossovers, then you’ll enjoy the book even more than I did.

I should emphasize that I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s beautiful and artful. It’s a favorite–though I already have so many favorites in the new Star Wars canon. There is room for a sequel based on the ending, and I hope that that sequel manifests. I’d encourage you to give it a try; even if it doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, you might be surprised.

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Forces of Destiny, Round 4: Season 2

Forces of Destiny keeps growing on me, and I don’t know whether it’s simple exposure to the series or an actual improvement in overall quality. I liked most of the eight episodes that have comprised Season 2.

My favorites were “Unexpected Company,” “Bounty Hunted,” and “The Path Ahead.”

“Unexpected Company” has Ahsoka as a last-minute addition to Anakin’s escort assignment with Padme. Anakin’s initially frustrated that his alone-time with Padme was ruined, but Ahsoka helps them out in an unexpected starship battle, and she and Padme share a moment at the end of the episode. I think it’s implied that Ahsoka was able to deduce the relationship between Padme and Anakin because of the events of the episode, choosing to silently accept it with a knowing smile and some careful words.

“Bounty Hunted” provided the (potentially) canon explanation for how Leia got Boushh’s armor. The encounter with Boushh is a little silly and arbitrary, but I’m willing to accept coincidence when Maz seems to intuit this occurrence through the Force. Seeing Maz and Leia meet–and Maz and Chewie embrace!–definitely made the episode special, though. And I’ll take any explanation for how Leia got her armor over the EU account with rapey Prince Xizor.

Finally, “The Path Ahead” shows a moment in Yoda’s training of Luke. Yoda gives Luke some sage advice that sounds appropriately cryptic and mystical. At the conclusion of the lesson, Yoda remarks, “Trust what you see [through the Force], not what you think you see [through your senses].” When he says that there will be more training through tree-climbing pathways, Luke asks, “Are we trying to get somewhere?” And Yoda replies, “Always, yes, always.”

Most of the other episodes were fine–mildly adventurous, or humorous, or heart-warming, but not particularly remarkable vignettes.  The only episode I did not like was “Shuttle Shock,” starring Finn and Rose as they approach Canto Bight. It’s actually a fairly good character moment, but the bit of action squeezed into the segment feels like too much loaded into what was otherwise a relative moment of brief quiet in the film itself. I didn’t like the episode for the reason that I didn’t like many other Season 1 episodes–there’s the sense that everything is overstuffed with moments of action and suspense, as if the movies actually trimmed down on the heroes stumbling through one gun fight or narrow escape after another.

In the end, Forces of Destiny will probably never provide essential Star Wars moments, but it does seem that with each new batch of episodes, it gets closer to the promise of consistently joy-filled short stories.

Heir to the Jedi

Heir to the Jedi (Star Wars)Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heir to the Jedi is an entertaining, swashbuckling adventure romp narrated in first-person perspective by Luke Skywalker himself. The simplest plot summary would be that sometime after the Battle of Yavin, Luke is assigned an extraction mission to free a highly skilled slicer and mathematical genius from the hands of the Empire. The narrative is not exceptionally deep, but there are a lot of twists and turns appropriate for the sort of serial pop adventures this novel emulates, and so that plot synopsis is a gross understatement–and it skips the first quarter of the book! In fact, there are many missions and side adventures and battles, many interesting aliens and allies and starships, and the plot from start to finish is a lot more sinuous than I would have expected, especially given the simplistic earnestness of the narration.

I think the first-person narrative works great (it’s too bad it’s rare in Star Wars; I’m not sure there are any other examples besides I, Jedi, which I also mostly enjoyed). It feels like Luke’s voice–still young, still insecure and inexperienced, but having been shaped by his adventures, his successes, and his losses. I think, though I am not sure, that this is a novel aimed at adult readers, but its vocabulary feels a little middle-grade; I can’t complain, though, because it makes for a light, brisk, action-packed read, and it fits the aw-shucks farmboy sincerity of Luke during the early stages of his efforts against the Empire.

There’s actually a better way to frame the narrative of the book, keeping in mind the focus of the narrator: this is really Luke recounting his relationship with Nakari Kelen, the beautiful heir to a biotech entrepreneur, an expert sharpshooter, and a newly declared Rebel. Nakari is charming, and between her flirty banter with Luke and their effectiveness together in tough situations, it’s easy to see why they both quickly fall for each other over their adventures together. And it’s cool to see another woman of color added to the Star Wars galaxy, especially as such a clear hero and protagonist.

I actually liked most of the new characters introduced by this book–especially Nakari and her father Fayet, the Givin slicer Drusil Bephorin, the Rodian weapons dealer and Jedi fan Taneetch Soonta, and the Kupohan spies Sakhet and Azzur Nessin. Even minor Empire Strikes Back character Bren Derlin gets some extra characterization. I also feel like Kevin Hearne has a brilliance for describing aliens and making them feel alien; they had particular behaviors, personality quirks, and cultural oddities that made them act as believably strange as they apparently looked. This was as true for the more well-known aliens like Rodians as it was for newcomers like the Kupohans.

I don’t have a lot more to say, and the few criticisms I have contain spoilers. The only “criticism” I can offer that doesn’t spoil anything is that this story is very much so a one-off, with fairly low stakes. With post-Yavin Luke as the protagonist, there’s very little of event that could happen. We know that Luke cannot learn much more about being a Jedi and cannot learn anything more about his family history. We know that Luke cannot die or sustain any particularly serious injuries (the hand in Episode V must surely be Luke’s first prosthetic). And we know that the Alliance and Empire will not have any major changes in status as a result of this novel. Luke has some adventures and completes his mission. The end. Unlike many of the other new canon novels, it does not really explore anything of significance that adds to the film saga (other than seeing how Luke develops his Force powers a little further). Frankly, it feels like a story that would work better in the ongoing Marvel comics and maybe steps on the toes of that space given the overlapping timelines being covered. Given that this was apparently a third book in a trio of novels meant to highlight the heroes of the original films, which was later separated and released as a stand-alone in the new canon, this oddity of tone and setting really is not that surprising. It’s not even really a bad thing; it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the book at all. But it’s something to be noted.

Okay, so spoilers follow. Stop now if you’d like to read this book without any spoilers.

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My biggest complaint with the book is that Nakari is killed in the last pages. We don’t even directly witness her death, though Luke senses it. And afterward, Luke is given time to mourn, which is an interesting moment that we don’t get to see very often, but that same moment also gets used as a sort of plot device, to give Luke the opportunity to feel and resist the Dark Side (thus already making different choices than his father would make) and to allow Luke to mourn the others he’s lost. It’s true that he hasn’t had a real moment to grieve over Owen and Beru, Ben, or Biggs, but it lessens the significance of Nakari’s own death–even though she seems to be Luke’s first real love, even if he never got the chance to tell her exactly that–and feels a little weird that this woman’s death ultimately becomes about other people. Nakari was such a great character, and especially as one of the few women of color, it was uncomfortable and disappointing to have her killed off. I get that Luke seems to be single by Episode V, but we could still have Luke have a relationship, lose some of his retroactively creepy fascination with Leia, and be alone again by that film even without actually killing his love interest. Relationships end all the time, and many of them amicably. It might have been more interesting to see Luke have even more time to pursue a relationship with Nakari, only for them both to realize that they weren’t right for each other or had conflicting objectives or couldn’t pursue their feelings in a time of war. Maybe that’s too much for one book. But Nakari could’ve been floating around at the end of this book, to have that relationship developed further in other stories.

And while this book was originally going to be part of the old EU, I guess, it’s still more than a little frustrating to see that Luke’s luck with ladies appears to be returning with the new canon. A lot of women Luke loved had tragic ends in the old canon. It’s a little ridiculous, and I hope we don’t see that repeated. I don’t see exactly why writers love to write Luke into romantic relationships that usually go no further than earnest confessions and chaste kissing before writing out the love interest; if he is to be monastic and more or less virginal, why not let that be Luke’s choice? After all, in The Force Awakens, Luke made the choice to go into isolation. Maybe he’s always felt the need to create distance from other people?

Really, besides that, I don’t have any particular complaints. Well, okay, I have one last, tiny complaint, which may be a misunderstanding on my part. In the final battle against half a dozen bounty hunters, one bounty hunter rides a swoop book. He is described as “a human with goggles strapped to his head, a dark cloak streaming behind him” (247). He is the only one on a swoop bike and is shot off by Nakari. Several pages on, he’s become “the Dressellian whom Nakari had shot off the swoop bike” (261). Super-minor apparent continuity error, but a jarring one–Dressellians are humanoid, I suppose, but definitely not so near-human as to be easily confused.

This is a fun, but not vitally important, Star Wars story. Its quick pacing, great characters, and genuine voice all make a compelling argument for reading, even if it’s not the sort of story that sends ripples out into the broader galaxy.

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Oh no! The Rancor!

I’m reading through the Star Wars novelizations. I had read most of them before, but I had not read any of the Episode II or Episode VI books. The prequel trilogy books were engaging and really added to the films. The classic trilogy books have been more disappointing–they haven’t had quite the right tone, and they have been more straightforward, vanilla adaptations of the movies, barring discrepancies between the novelizations and the final film products. Return of the Jedi by James Kahn has been the exception to the classic trilogy rule so far. It nails the tone, it feels comfortably Star Wars, and Kahn actually does a good job of getting into the heads of the characters in a way that adds to the film.

Leia, Luke, Lando, and Han all have a little more depth, and Leia is just oozing with power, confidence, and control. Some of my favorite Leia gems so far:

She thought about killing [Jabba] outright, then and there. But she held her ire in check, since the rest of these vermin might have killed her before she could escape with Han. Better odds were sure to come later. So she swallowed hard and, for the time being, put up with this slimepot as best she could.

[Luke] could feel [Leia’s] pain immediately, from across the room–but he said nothing, didn’t even look at her, shut her anguish completely out of his mind. For he needed to focus his attention entirely on Jabba.

Leia, for her part, sensed this at once. She closed her mind to Luke, to keep herself from distracting him; yet at the same time she kept it open, ready to receive any sliver of information she might need to act. She felt charged with possibilities.

[Leia’s] eyes had been fixed on [Han] from the moment he’d entered the room, though–guarding his spirit with her own. When he spoke of her now, she responded instantly, calling from her place on Jabba’s throne. “I’m all right, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold off your slobbering friend, here.” She was intentionally cavalier, to put Solo at ease. Besides, the sight of all of her friends there at once made her feel nearly invincible . . . . Leia almost laughed out loud, almost punched Jabba in the nose. She could barely restrain herself. She wanted to hug them all.

Leia looked after them with great concern; but when she caught a glimpse of Luke’s face she was stirred to see it still fixed in a broad, genuine smile. She sighed deeply, to expel her doubts.

Anyway, I think it’s good stuff. Some of the things Kahn focuses on are a little silly to me, though–and the title to this post should clue you into one of those areas. A lot of attention is paid to the Rancor. It gets to be its own character with its own dramatic arc:

Out of the side passage emerged the giant Rancor . . . . It was clearly a mutant, and wild as all unreason.

It was not an evil beast, that much was clear . . . . But this monster wasn’t bad–merely dumb and mistreated. Hungry and in pain, it lashed out at whatever came near.

No, he was going to have to keep his mind clear–that was all–and just outwit the savage brute, to put it out of its misery.

The Rancor keeper wept openly and threw himself down on the body of his dead pet. Life would be a lonely proposition for him from that day.

Jabba chortled evilly. “Take them away.” At last, a bit of pure pleasure on an otherwise dreary day–feeding the Sarlacc was the only thing he enjoyed as much as feeding the Rancor. Poor Rancor.

The film has a little of that tragic story, what with the weeping, mourning Rancor keeper, but I think this version plays the drama (or melodrama) up a little more than that even. The line “Poor Rancor” really tickled me.

It’s okay if it’s time for the Jedi to end

On The Guardian, Ben Child asks, “Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?” Of great concern to Child is Mark Hammill’s now-infamous line from the first trailer for The Last Jedi: “I only know one truth: it’s time for the Jedi to end.” Reactions on Twitter certainly suggest that Child is not alone in his fretting and that the fan base is rather divided as to how to take the line.

That’s a lot of weight placed on a small piece of dialogue for a teaser-trailer months before the film comes out. There are plenty of potential contexts in which the line could be uttered–if it is said at all in the final film (see, e.g., “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel”).

Nonetheless, let’s play the over-analysis game. Let’s assume that the line is in the film, in a context similar to that suggested, and Luke is rejecting the reestablishment of the Jedi on a literal level. So what’s the problem? Child worries that the end of the Jedi makes the efforts of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda in the classic trilogy somehow frivolous. Child would be okay with “a new, modern order,” but:

[W]ouldn’t dismissing the Jedi in such a manner rather undercut the original trilogy, in which Yoda and Obi-Wan are presented as untouchable paragons of virtue? If the order’s central doctrine is meaningless, then both of Skywalker’s mentors are little more than fools.

And a little further on:

[T]he Jedi somehow seem more fundamental to Star Wars . . . . The entire original trilogy was about Luke’s path from farm boy to powerful exponent of the Force. Are we now expected to accept that this journey was a false one, that he was obsessed with reviving an order that had long since fallen into ineffectuality, guided by a pair of elderly diehards still clinging desperately to long lost grandeur?

It’s dangerous to ask rhetorical questions if you’re not sure that your audience will agree with you. Presumably, Child expects the audience to agree that, yes, dismissing the Jedi would undercut the original trilogy and make Obi-Wan and Yoda out to be fools; yes, we are expected to accept that Luke’s original trilogy journey was a false one; and of course, those answers indicate a bad direction for Star Wars! I disagree.

At its most fundamental level, I think it’s dangerous to ever hold up sacred cows in Star Wars. Each film in the main saga has remixed what has come before. Vader is Luke’s father; Leia is Luke’s sister; young Anakin was actually a prophetic Chosen One, and the Force is sensed through midichlorian cells; Jedi are supposed to avoid the deep, loving attachments that would in some way define Luke’s development as a hero; the Jedi’s entrance into the Clone Wars condemned it to near-extinction by playing into the hands of the Sith; Anakin fell to the Dark Side not out of a lust for power or pure arrogance but because of a desperate urge to protect his wife and an increasing sense that the people closest to him did not trust him. And so on.

Perhaps it is true that the role of the Jedi in the original trilogy would be undermined by Luke’s decision to end the Jedi Order (if that’s what he means), but George Lucas was already quite willing to alter meaning and change significance in his later films. It may be easy to view the prequel trilogy as lesser-than, and it may be convenient to ignore them in one’s analysis, but they nonetheless represent the ongoing vision of the franchise’s creator, with the benefit of a couple decades of hindsight and reflection.

In the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars TV series, the Jedi Order’s rejection of attachment, its adherence to strict rules, and its inability to understand or accept someone like Anakin ultimately lead to its downfall. Maybe even by merely being a functioning body of the government, the Jedi were doomed. After all, it is their entrance into the Clone Wars that leads to the rise of the Dark Side and the vanquishment of the Jedi Order. As an older and wiser Yoda notes, “Wars not make one great.” And besides the broad-scale suffering and violence that the Clone Wars brought to the galaxy, it also had the side effect of producing a great many fallen Jedi (Pong Krell, Barriss Offee, Quinlan Vos, and of course Anakin himself).

Furthermore, on a more individual level, where Yoda and Obi-Wan may be seen as “untouchable paragons of virtue” in the original trilogy, they are fundamentally flawed in the prequel trilogy; simply put, they fail Anakin as friends and mentors. This failure on a human level is observed again in Ahsoka Tano’s final arc in The Clone Wars, in which she was framed for a crime, was hunted by her former allies, and ultimately chose to leave the Jedi Order behind after she was vindicated.

While writing this post, I came across “‘The True Nature of the Force’ is Way More Complicated Than You Think” by Emily Asher-Perrin, which does a good job of showing the weaknesses of the Jedi Order and developing the ambiguity of what bringing balance to the Force actually entails. I believe that it provides additional support for the assertions I have made above.

The Jedi, simply put, are not meant to be perfect. And the Jedi of the original trilogy are not the Jedi of the prequel trilogy; Obi-Wan and Yoda have trained under the guidance of a spectral Qui-Gon Jinn, who has unlocked secrets of the Force that no other Jedi has. Their training of an adult Luke over what could not have been more than a few weeks or months, with an apparent emphasis on eliminating Sith Lords, would certainly seem heretical compared to traditional Jedi teachings.

It’s also misleading to suggest that having the franchise go in a direction where the Jedi exist no more, at least formally, would somehow contradict or undermine the efforts of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda. Jedi training was always a means to an end, rather than a final goal, in the mentorship of Luke.

In attempting to prod Luke into action, Obi-Wan tells him, “You must learn the ways of the Force if you’re to come with me to Alderaan . . . . I need your help, Luke. She needs your help. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.” And when Luke continues to reject his overtures, Obi-Wan says, “You must do what you feel is right, of course.” Rather than requesting that Luke begin Jedi training, or demanding adherence to a particular code of ethics, Obi-Wan wants Luke to help him accomplish a mission, believing that he will need a connection with the Force to complete that mission, and Obi-Wan only wants Luke to follow his conscience.

When training Luke aboard the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan states, “Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him . . . . But it also obeys your commands.” The Jedi here serve as an example of the ideal Force-user. This makes sense, given that Obi-Wan himself is a Jedi. But there is still no demand that Luke adopt the tenets of the Jedi Order.

Even when Obi-Wan appears as a Force Ghost on Hoth, he only instructs Luke to go to the Dagobah system, where he “will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me.” Obi-Wan had trained under Yoda as a youth, and Obi-Wan and Yoda both studied to master the secrets that Qui-Gon had unlocked. Yet again, mastery of the Force rather than adherence to the Jedi Code is what is important to Obi-Wan.

Yoda speaks in riddles and plays with language and perception, so some of his dialogue does suggest that Luke is to be trained as a Jedi. Luke tells him that he is seeking a Jedi Master, so Yoda, while still hiding behind the persona of an addled hermit, asks Luke why he wishes to become a Jedi. And in considering the training of Luke, Yoda remarks:

For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained! A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind . . . . Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things.

It is clear that Yoda would have Luke believe that he is training him as a Jedi. Yet what we see of Yoda’s training is focused almost exclusively on the physical, with the trial of the Dark Side cave and brief admonitions as to the seductive nature of the Dark Side serving more as warnings to avoid the path of temptation than as any deep spiritual or intellectual development. Yoda simply does not have the time. He is, as far as we know, the last remaining Jedi Master, and toward the end of his life. Even if Luke did not leave his training to face Vader, Yoda would not have had much time left to truly train Luke in the traditions of the Jedi Order. While Yoda worries that Luke’s departure to defeat Vader could be the undoing of everything, he does not actually condemn Luke’s compassion or attachment to his friends, though such attachment would have been strictly forbidden in the old Jedi Order.

By the time Luke returns to Yoda, Yoda tells Luke that he has had sufficient training, but he can only call himself a Jedi once he confronts Darth Vader yet again. And once more Yoda warns Luke to beware the negative emotions that make up the Dark Side.

In short, Yoda may have promised Luke that he would be a Jedi, but Luke does not have the formal training, the code of ethics, or the sense of history and tradition that other Jedi have. Luke was trained by Obi-Wan and Yoda, more or less, to face off against the Empire and to defeat Vader, to succeed where they had failed. And Yoda hopes that Luke will pass on his training–his ability to sense and control the Force–to Leia.

But if Luke were to continue the “Jedi,” they would be Jedi in name only. The Emperor succeeded in eradicating the Order, and by the time of the Galactic Civil War, Obi-Wan and Yoda were not the Jedi they were in the height of the Clone Wars. Their last act of rebellion against the Sith was to attempt to train an ultimately successful assassin.

Luke could train his sister and others to sense and control the Force. And he could warn them against the Dark Side. And he could focus his new group’s agenda on resisting the Dark Side and the threat of fascism and tyranny. But he probably could not restore the Jedi Order to what it once was, and, frankly, doing so would probably be a bad idea.

Admittedly, the new canon has already established ways in which Luke could gain further insight into the Jedi Order. We know there are collectors of Jedi and Sith artifacts and old, significant ruins ripe with secrets, as established in sources as far-ranging as The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars comics, the Rebels TV show, and books like Aftermath.

But more interesting than how the Jedi Order could be restored is how these new sources also establish a rich variety of alternative Force traditions across the spectrum from Light to Dark. We see that rather prominently in The Force Awakens, after all, with the wizened old Maz Kanata, who can feel the Force and is definitely not evil but not a Jedi, either (for that matter, whatever Snoke is, he does not appear to be Sith, and neither are Kylo and his Knights of Ren). In The Clone Wars we have the Father and his children on Mortis, the Dathomiri witches, and the Force priestesses who test Yoda in the final season. In Rebels, we have the Inquisitors, who work for the Sith but are not–so far as I know–Sith themselves (what with that whole Rule of Two), and we also have the Force-neutral Bendu. And I’m sure there are other examples being developed in the new canon that I have overlooked; there were certainly a variety of Force traditions developed in the Legends Expanded Universe.

Even if all of the above were not true, why should Luke want to continue the Jedi Order by the events of Episode VIII? One of his own students, his own nephew, turned to the Dark Side and slaughtered Luke’s other students, then went on to take a leadership role in a new post-Imperial fascist movement. Over the course of Luke’s lifetime, the Jedi Order has now been destroyed twice, and Luke probably feels partially responsible for its fall at the hands of Kylo Ren.

In Legends, Luke was awfully resilient in overcoming the frequent threats to the Jedi Order (see, for example, the spirit of Exar Kun and the fall of Kyp Durron or the hunt for Jedi by Yuuzhan Vong and Peace Brigade–but in contrast, see Luke’s own brief fall to the Dark Side). However, in the new canon, it is quite possible that Luke’s spirit could be broken by such severe tragedy as he has experienced. And even if his spirit remains intact, he could have rationally reached the conclusion that the Jedi Order could not be restored in the current galactic climate, or that the Jedi simply no longer had the same utility that they once did.

As fans, we can become rather hungry for more of what we like. But I’d rather have a well-told story than one that simply gives us what we think we want (and apparently a lot of us want more Jedi). There will be plenty of places to tell more stories of Jedi, and the Legends Expanded Universe was already bursting at the seams with Jedi after all. If Rian Johnson and crew have decided to let the Jedi die, at least for now, then let’s see how it goes. It wouldn’t corrupt the meaning of the older films, it wouldn’t dilute purpose, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad decision.

But let’s all take a collective breath and wait to see how things play out. The groundwork has been laid to allow this movie to go in a lot of different directions, many of them rather exciting. Whether this movie truly heralds the last of the Jedi or not, I have confidence in the direction of this saga.