TCW 7.10: “Phantom Apprentice”

This Siege of Mandalore arc is adding so much nuance to Revenge of the Sith, which is already an above-average Star Wars film.

I love how much Maul recognizes and has figured out Sidious’s vision–how close he was to figuring it all out in time, how much he realizes he was just a pawn in a grandmaster’s game, how he could have almost destabilized it all. When he is foiled, because Maul is always foiled, I could sort of feel for him. He knows what is coming and he’s going to fail to stop it.

I love the moment when Maul and Ahsoka have something approaching a parley, and how that moment feels like one of the critical shatterpoints (to use Mace Windu’s preferred term) of the entire saga. Someone on Twitter suggested the following quote from the Revenge of the Sith novelization as the epigraph for this arc, since these episodes have eschewed that Clone Wars tradition:

This story happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It is already over. Nothing can be done to change it.

I found myself thinking about that in relation to the episode. It fits so well, and it really pops in context of the Ahsoka/Maul confrontation. You can’t help but feel that if Ahsoka had sided with Maul, everything could have played out very differently. Maybe the Sith would have still ruled, maybe the galaxy would have descended into chaos…or maybe a weary and battered Jedi Order would have been able to rebuild the Republic (or something better) over time. I felt as though Ahsoka was facing options that could have completely reprogrammed the outcome of Revenge of the Sith–but of course, her fate and the fates of her friends are already set in stone. There was fantastic tension, not only for this story, but for the bigger story whose outcome we already know in full.

I love how Obi-Wan was really trying to reach out to Anakin. He knew the Jedi Council was wrong and felt awful for giving Anakin the assignment of spying on the Chancellor. That much was clear in Revenge of the Sith. But it’s heartbreaking that Obi-Wan tried to turn to Ahsoka, knowing she would understand how Anakin felt in facing the hypocrisy of the Council, hoping that she could get through to him–heartbreaking because we know she’ll never get that chance.

I love the beautiful, wild, jaw-dropping lightsaber battle between Ahsoka and Maul. The mo-capped choreography is incredible. The wide-ranging setpieces used to host the sprawling fight are impressive, as well. The final high-beam fight has a dangerous, acrobatic energy comparable to Anakin and Obi-Wan’s fight.

I even love the tacky episode title, living up to the spirit of the goofy serial names of the other films, nodding to The Phantom Menace of Sidious’s grand plot against the Republic and the Jedi, and (it would seem) ultimately referring to Anakin, who has been groomed to be Sidious’s new apprentice all this time, as Maul now knows.

I love so much about this beautiful, exhilarating, emotional episode. Only two more left, and then The Clone Wars will be complete!

“It is to be commended. What is its number?”

Despite some delays, we’re still holding out hope for a closing at the end of this week on our first home. While a delay of a few days or a week wouldn’t be a big deal, it would be especially nice to close and take possession this week because it’s also the week that my work site has a summer shutdown. Regardless of whether we can actually start moving this week, we’ll at least be getting ready for it, packing and removing some of the stuff we won’t be taking with us.

It’s also a good week for catching up on other things I’ve been putting off. One of those things has just been keeping up with the Clone Wars rewatch, so last night I was binging several episodes, and tonight will get me back on pace with the once-a-week recaps on the official Star Wars website. In the rush of episodes, one small detail stuck with me.

In the episode “R2 Come Home,” R2-D2 must rescue Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker from a lethal trap by escaping pursuing bounty hunters and contacting the Jedi Order. In the beginning of the episode, R2 is briefly partnered with Mace’s droid, R8-B7, before the latter unit is destroyed. But wait. R8? It looks like an identical model to R2. Why the different designation?

It’s a silly thing to get hung up on, but droid designations have long been really confusing to me. In the films alone, it’s easy enough to decide that the designations might be partial serial numbers or something to that effect. But at least in the old Expanded Universe, droid designations came to represent both the model and unit. For instance, there was a whole R-series of astromech droids that included R2 models, R4 models, R8 models, and so on. (Higher the number, newer the model release.)

Again, there’s nothing in the films, at least that I can think of, that would dictate this interpretation. I think it’s an artifact of the Expanded Universe’s impulse to extrapolate general characteristics from very limited anecdotal film details–like that all Hutts are gangsters, all Rodians are bounty hunters, all Twi’lek women are dancers, and so on. (Thankfully the EU moved more and more away from that, and the new canon doesn’t seem too guilty of that outside of casting the Hutts once more as a Space Mafia race.) And I’m sure that a lot of those generalizations are a result of the need to gamify elements of Star Wars; so much of the broader lore originated with West End Games and was spread in supplements created by WEG and the publishers who filled the tabletop publishing niche in the following years.

The idea that a droid’s name always starts with its model number doesn’t even really make a lot of sense, unless one assumes that there are a lot of droids designated R2-D2, or that owners are picking random elements of a much longer serial number to supplement the droids’ names. It feels more right to imagine a generic droid series, the “R-series,” for instance, with many models and unique designations under that. (Still, I bet there are other so-called R2-D2s rolling around in that galaxy far, far away.)

I got hung up on R8 in particular because that would have been a model released much later in the old EU, but also because the designation seemed to have no practical effect on the droid’s appearance. As usual, I seem to be late to the party. Wookieepedia’s Legends page for R8-B7 has a behind-the-scenes section referencing an old Star Wars Insider issue (58) that apparently explained that droid names are fragments of longer designations. (Without a copy of that issue, I’m just going to have to trust the accuracy of the source. For my purposes, seeing the existence of the proposed theory is sufficient, even if the source is incorrect.) That was before the unified canon reboot, but that seems like a very plausible explanation.

I still want to put too much emphasis on those model numbers, though. I remember as a kid reading about them in Star Wars Gamer issue 3 (“DROIDS”!) and the “Droids” chapter of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Revised Core Rulebook during the publishing reign of Wizards of the Coast. Something about that was formative enough to lock it in as a thing I “knew” about droids. It’s a hard thing for me to unlearn–even though nothing says that those model numbers aren’t still canon. It’s easy enough to reconcile model number designations with inconsistent droid names under the serial number theory. Searching keywords related to this subject, I stumbled on a Reddit thread that points out that the personal designation of a droid could be pulled from anywhere in its serial number. So even the apparent rule-breaker R8 could really be R2-B17998R8-B7743, or something like that. Still, if that’s true, why even grab random numbers at all? Why not just name your droid “Frank” or “Scruffy” or just call it “Astromech”?

It’s really not something that needs more explanation, because there’s not something truly broken here. It’s just silly, is all.

Dark Disciple

Dark Disciple (Star Wars)Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked Dark Disciple more than I expected, but I’m not sure that I can recommend it to everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a good Star Wars book. It further explored themes from The Clone Wars and wrapped up character arcs that were left dangling with the abrupt end of the television show. Well, I say “arcs,” but this is a book mostly about Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos. It further explores Vos in the new canon, but he didn’t really have any dangling thread left from the show. In contrast, Ventress was left disillusioned and seemingly tempted by the Light, living life as a bounty hunter who maybe had loose morals but wasn’t exactly amoral. Here we see a resolution of that story of transformation and personal growth, providing a satisfying conclusion to Asajj’s story, and it’s actually a pretty sweet tragic romance at its core. To briefly summarize the plot: Vos is tasked by the Jedi to assassinate Count Dooku in an attempt to end the war; he must recruit Ventress, who nearly succeeded in killing the count before, to work with him to this end. Vos finds himself tempted by love and by the power of the Dark Side, and by falling to both temptations, he is set down a path that radically alters who he and Ventress are.

If you do not know who Asajj Ventress is, or who Quinlan Vos is, well. You might have made better life decisions than me. I think they’re great characters! (Or at least Asajj is! Her long arc from villain to hero is fascinating, and while I know to some degree new canon is covering old ground from the EU here, I think it’s well-done). But just because I think they’re great characters doesn’t mean that I think that everyone should have to invest in six seasons of a television show peripherally related to the poorly received Star Wars prequel trilogy just to have an adequate basis for understanding this novel.

In fact, it would have been better if the novel could have just been part of the series. After all, that was its original intent; the plot here is adapted from a whopping eight planned episodes from the show. I mean, what with the show being cancelled, I’m glad we got the story at all, and Christie Golden layers on mature themes (including torture and sexuality) and mature subject matter (like heavy alcohol drinking, including as a coping mechanism for grief) that probably would have been cut back more in the show. But it still feels more or less like a string of episodes tied together by an overarching plot, rather than a single story unit. I hope that makes sense, because that’s about as close to a description as I’m going to get. It’s disjointed. Some sections feel rushed. There are time skips. Thinking about how these episodes would have been broken out, the self-contained stories make sense, but Golden doesn’t quite manage to weave them all back together into a single narrative. I think she does a great job with what she has to work with, though; I imagine it’s difficult to shift media formats like that, and the prose itself is top-notch.

In fact, that prose is often quite moving and effective. Golden gets into the psychology of Ventress and Vos. She sells a slowly building, but fundamentally doomed, romance between the two. If you are a Star Wars fan, this book’s worth a read as a love letter to Ventress and to The Clone Wars, a lovely swan song for the series. If you are not a Star Wars fan, though, I think you’ll miss too much context. And references to other parts of The Clone Wars and Star Wars at large come pretty hot and heavy. Admittedly, most of the references are minor and should not disrupt enjoyment of the novel, and for character-important moments Golden typically provides light exposition in the form of in-character reflections. Still, I think what all those references indicate to me is that this book is part of a larger tapestry that loses some of its meaning when examined in isolation. I love that element of a lot of Star Wars, but I worry about the potential for insularity and opacity wherein every work loses something when not appreciated within the light of the preexisting corpus. Even the films are veering more and more down this route…but that’s really outside the scope of this specific review.

If you are a fan of the show, though, I feel safe in recommending this book. And honestly, Dark Disciple was a very interesting read in light of The Last Jedi! (The book was first published in 2015.) There are some pretty deep and interesting examinations of the nature of the Force and of the Jedi. Ventress believes that she has managed to find a balance straddling between Dark and Light, though the book leaves ambiguity here–Vos is not able to maintain that balance, and Ventress finds something special in the Light once she devotes herself to it in a moment of sacrifice at the end. But something beyond the Good/Evil binary of the pre-Last Jedi films is certainly suggested, a continuation out of what the Dathomiri witches had become. Also, the Dark Side is shown as a spectrum, ranging from cruelty, anger, passion–the normal human emotions–to a consumptive, possessive, wrathful sort of poison that dominates one’s soul and turns one against even those they love. I am very fascinated by the new canon’s use of the Dark Side as a representation of mental and spiritual imbalance and illness, and this book further explores that. And boy, the Jedi are at their absolute worst, beginning the book by agreeing to attempt to assassinate Count Dooku for the greater good. Willing to condone, in fact to order, murder sets the Order and Vos in particular down a very dark path. Obi-Wan, being pure and good, is opposed, and Yoda is reluctant and eventually course-corrects away from this. But Mace Windu is very insistent on following through with this. He is presented as the Jedi at their most cruel and arrogant, and I was surprised to see how much this version of Mace can be found in the Jedi Master of Revenge of the Sith. Much like how The Clone Wars deepened the characterizations of Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Padme, and even Jar Jar, this final chapter retroactively informs Mace Windu in very interesting ways.

Relatedly, the arrogance and aggression of the Jedi directly plays into Luke’s character in The Last Jedi. And, for that matter, it draws on the Knights of the Old Republic games (I think) (maybe not intentionally). The Clone Wars had some fun incorporating elements from those games, and no surprise there when Bioware’s title had such a great twist and Obsidian’s sequel explored elements of the Force and the Jedi that the new canon’s now grappling with. I think that Vos’s treatment at the hands of Dooku in the middle of the book echoes Malak’s turning of Bastila (down to the use of torture, confinement, and manipulation), and Vos’s redemption through love is (a) OF COURSE a subversion of Anakin’s own eventual fall to the Dark and (b) a pretty parallel to Bastila’s own (potential) redemption through love of Revan.

The book is pretty juicy in this sense. There are a lot of references to explore. There is a lot of content about the franchise’s core mythology to interpret. It’s a great book to launch a thousand conversations. But it’s definitely a book aimed at the hardcore fan–particularly a fan of The Clone Wars. If I am honest and divorce myself from my fandom, I suspect that a non-fan might find this book lacking, although I can always hope that I’d be wrong!

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