TPM on the 20th

Like many people, I celebrated The Phantom Menace‘s twentieth anniversary today by watching the film. I remain very much so someone on the outside looking in on fandom, but it has seemed to me that fans of the movie have become more vocal in celebrating it over the past five or ten years, and general opinion has mellowed.

I have a bad habit of providing opinions amplified by several layers of hyperbole in person, and so I know over the years that my expressed opinion on the films has changed rather a lot. I was ten years old when the movie came out, and still a fairly new Star Wars fan, and so I was the perfect viewer in that moment. I loved it. In my adolescence, as a result of the combination of vehement criticism from older fans and my natural teenage aversion to anything silly or earnest, I joined my friends in decrying the film–typically in the context of condemning the course of the prequel trilogy as a whole (Attack of the Clones has always been my least-favorite Star Wars movie, so at the time, it felt like the movies were getting progressively worse). It was in college that I started to come back around to the film, returning to it as to an old friend. My opinion today is tempered. I think it’s a fine but flawed film, and it typically lands in the middle of any personal ranking of the franchise installments.

My personal criticisms of the film, despite my broader changes in attitude toward it, have remained relatively consistent. The podrace scene is too long and bogs down the story. It’s unclear why Palpatine’s Sith identity is treated like a secret withheld from the audience, even while the camera lingers over him ominously in many key scenes and everyone who’s seen Return of the Jedi knows how this all turns out. The scatological humor, while not unique to this episode, isn’t funny. Anakin is too young, with too much of an age gap, to take his childhood crush on Padmé very seriously, and to the extent that she reciprocates it (“my caring for you will remain”), it’s just creepy. Despite the increased diversity of the human cast, many of the new aliens pick up uncomfortable racist tropes in their characterization. And while a common complaint is that the plot is boring in its focus on trade route taxation, I’d counter by saying that it’s actually a rather action-packed adventure that expects its viewers to jump right into the setting and come along for the ride, resulting in gaps in exposition that actually make that trade conflict, and the associated governmental and commercial bodies, rather muddled, simply dressing up a MacGuffin to get things going. (In general, one of my biggest complaints about the prequels as a whole is that they provide a lot more complicated galactic society but do a very poor job of properly framing how these complicated pieces actually function and fit together.)

Despite all that, it’s a really fun movie that takes risks both as a film and as an installment in the Star Wars saga, and it feels incredibly invested with the vision of George Lucas. It quickly introduces new characters that millions of people now relate to and admire deeply–including a character like Qui-Gon Jinn, who is given considerable humanity in this one-off appearance through the performance of Liam Neeson. More broadly, all of the performances are effective, and I would push back at those who claim that Ewan McGregor or Natalie Portman were stiff or wooden in their roles here. There’s a lot of affection and yet tension between McGregor’s Obi-Wan and his master. Portman is reserved and imposing as Queen Amidala, yet when she dons her handmaiden identity, she often allows herself to be frustrated, angry, affectionate, and engaged.  (Furthermore, the distant identity and elaborate clothing and makeup as Queen Amidala allow Padmé to use a handmaiden as her double–and it is impressively difficult to tell Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley apart when the makeup is on.) Ian McDiarmid is always incredible as Palpatine, and here we first got to see the mirage of a warm and endearing politician, even as McDiarmid portrays a depth of hidden meaning in his distant frowns and tiny smiles. If we look at Ahmed Best’s performance, and the special effects work that went into creating Jar Jar Binks, I think we could all agree that it’s impressive, even if you can’t get behind Jar Jar’s goofy slapstick or the uncomfortable echoes of minstrelsy. Ray Park is scary and compelling as Darth Maul, a character with an iconic visual design, and the fight scenes between Jedi and Sith are some of the best in the franchise–especially that final fight set to “Duel of the Fates,” which in turn has to be a franchise highlight for John Williams’s scores. Even Jake Lloyd does a good enough job as Anakin, despite having to deal with ridiculous lines like “Yipee!” His farewell with Pernilla August as his mother Shmi is a heartfelt, beautiful, earned moment that always touches me.

While I’m sure that some fans will look on The Phantom Menace with a special sort of purity, even as others continue to view it only with contempt, I’ll still enjoy it as an imperfect and unique episode in my favorite film franchise. I think, all in all, it’s stood up to the test of time better than many might have expected twenty years ago.

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!

Review: Empire’s End

Empire's End (Star Wars: Aftermath, #3)Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Empire’s End offers an exciting and eventful conclusion to the Aftermath trilogy. Like with Life Debt before it, this finale offers a mix of original and film legacy characters. There’s plenty of action and suspense. The book can largely be broken into two halves: the first half involves the amassing of the Imperial fleet over Jakku and Leia’s efforts to get the New Republic to engage that fleet in a final battle; the second half is the battle itself and the fallout.

We don’t see too much of the battle at Jakku because Wendig keeps the focus on Leia, Han, and the Imperial-hunting team of bounty hunter Jas Emari, mother-son pilot team Norra and Temmin Wexley along with Temmin’s bodyguard droid Mister Bones, ex-Imperial Sinjir Rath Velus, and Republic commando Jom Barell. Leia’s politicking and Han’s playing the scoundrel, doing the dirty work to fix some political problems. Jas, Norra, and Bones spend most of the book stranded on Jakku after they left their ship to bypass the Imperial blockade in an attempt to locate Sloane. Temmin has the biggest role in the battle, while Sinjir sits it out, having most of his involvement limited to helping first Han and then Mon Mothma, all while wrestling with his romantic life. And Jom barely appears at all; for a character who became a lot more significant in the second book, he’s basically written out, mostly appearing in the context of a complication for Jas (an interesting subversion of the sexist trope of minimizing a female character to romantic plot device for the male lead, but still a disappointing wrap to the character).

During all the above, Sloane, now an outcast, is trying to sneak through Imperial-occupied Jakku to track down and kill her former mentor, Rax, who has usurped Imperial rule, making the remaining Imperial forces something harsher, more vicious, more primitive. Rax’s big plan, it turns out, is to destroy both Republic and Empire, then rebuild a new Empire in unknown space, carrying out Palpatine’s Contingency plan in the event of the Emperor’s death. Frankly, I was a little disappointed by the simplicity of the Contingency. After all the eliminations of rivals and careful plots, it all comes down to trying to get both militaries on a planet that can be blown up. Most of the really juicy hints of some Dark Side presence or greater threat in the Unknown Regions on the edge of the galaxy remain window dressing for now. I hope that a later story picks up those threads.

Perhaps I just wanted more. Empire’s End was a wild ride, loaded with a lot of momentous events and shifting viewpoints, and the pace became blistering fast in the latter half. I can’t say it ended abruptly, but maybe some threads were rushed to get to a conclusion. Wendig’s usual strengths are on display, including tight pacing, interesting interlude chapters (which have at this point built up to some truly fascinating background narrative arcs worthy of further exploration), uniquely identifiable characters, and a whole lot of nods to Legends and the new canon. (In example of that last point, bringing in Embo and Dengar from Sugi’s old bounty hunting team in The Clone Wars to challenge Jas, Sugi’s niece, was not just a nice nod but an effective use and development of the characters.) If you’ve at least read Life Debt, it’s worth reading Empire’s End to complete the narrative.

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Sith Eyes

Guys, I promise, I’ll get over this wave of Star Wars posts eventually. It’s just on my mind a lot right now.

And something I’ve been thinking about is the physical manifestation of the Dark Side. In Revenge of the Sith, when Anakin turns to the Dark Side, his eyes go bloodshot and yellow. His eyes are still stained like this when we see him partially exposed during his fight with Ahsoka in Rebels. When Luke redeems him and removes his helmet, Anakin’s eyes are soft and friendly again.

 

 

Other Dark Siders may have yellow eyes. Darth Maul and Savage Opress both have those tainted yellow eyes. Pong Krell’s eyes are…yellow-ish. And Palpatine’s eyes are the bright yellow of a predatory animal, when he’s not wearing the kindly face of the Chancellor.

 

 

But I don’t think we ever see Count Dooku with anything but those dark eyes of his. Snoke’s eyes are not yellow. Asajj Ventress is known for her ice-blue eyes. And Kylo Ren’s eyes have so far remained a dark color.

 

 

We could say that perhaps the yellow-red eyes are just visual metaphor, signifying corruption, and not meant to be literally present. However, Dark Disciple confirms that the yellow eyes are visibly present, at least to some. When Ventress finds Vos after his corruption under Dooku, she sees that “Vos’s eyes were no longer a warm, rich brown. They were a blood-rimmed shade of yellow” (185). When Ventress briefly gets Vos to calm, the “yellow hue faded from his eyes,” but that “awful yellow hue returned to his eyes” when her entreaties fail and he returns to his impassioned attack (189).

Interestingly, Ventress later finds Vos without the yellowed eyes but knows he is still corrupted because she still feels “the fury inside him now” (209). Vos eventually admits that he had remained loyal to the Dark Side, that Ventress was correct.

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I don’t know if there’s a canon answer as to what causes a Dark Sider’s eyes to yellow. Speculation on Reddit suggests that it is an intense connection to the Dark Side. If so, how would Palpatine not always have those eyes, with his intense Dark Side presence and constant evil hatred and malevolence? I suppose he could mask his face the same way he masked his presence from the Jedi (and this certainly would not be the first time that someone has suggested that Palpatine only revealed his true face after his encounter with Mace Windu, that he was not actually “disfigured” at all then).

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My personal feeling is that the yellow eyes represent a loss of control. A Dark Sider strives to control the Force, but some let the Dark Side ultimately control them. For Palpatine, the Dark Side is a tool. For Anakin, the Dark Side is desperation and anger and confusion and fear all being unloaded at once.

What does that mean for Kylo Ren, though? I see Kylo as perhaps the most unstable Dark Sider yet, prone to violent rages and tantrums. But he has constant conflict in him; maybe he has never fully given himself to the Dark Side.

Or maybe this is just an inconsistent element that changes with the story being told and the creative team telling that story.

I bet that there’s at least a partial canon answer floating around in the minds (and files) of the Lucasfilm Story Group. But we don’t have a full answer yet.

Lords of the Sith

Lords of the Sith (Star Wars)Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lords of the Sith is simultaneously one of those books that demands familiarity with Star Wars canon while contributing very little to it. It’s as close to a Tales of story collection that a new-canon book can be, without any of the heart or quirkiness, and while being about two of the saga’s biggest villains. I would place this book toward the bottom of the new-canon Star Wars pile, along with Tarkin.

The premise of the two books is similar. We follow a villain’s perspective in a hunt for terrorists. We know that the villain must live and that the terrorists must die. Actually, in Lords of the Sith, the stakes are even lower: we know that there can be no major shift in the relationship between villain-protagonists Palpatine and Darth Vader; we know that neither can die; and we know that while most of the terrorists will live, their leader, Cham Syndulla, must survive, because he is a father to Hera Syndulla and appears in the Rebels television show after the events of this novel. That last point isn’t entirely fair; Wikipedia tells me that Lords of the Sith was published in April 2015, while Cham’s first appearance in Rebels was a season two episode first airing in February 2016. Still, while Cham’s fate may have been uncertain at the time of original publication, at best that’s just another terrorist (oh, excuse me, Cham would insist “freedom fighter,” as the book tells me again and again) who might be cut down by the Sith Lords.

Despite the shockingly low stakes, the book stresses its connections to other canon, but in mostly brief allusions. We get name-drops from the prequel films and Clone Wars show that require some level of inside baseball knowledge; Senator Orn Free Taa, the Senator of Ryloth, which features prominently in this book, is an exception to that rule, as his role and personality are adequately explained, but in a bizarre turn of events he disappears halfway through and is never mentioned again. He literally could be alive or dead by the end of the book, and while the Dark Lords might not care, I suspect I wasn’t the only reader who did. We also get occasional mentions of Cham’s daughter, who is named Hera, and….that’s it. Hera is absent from the book, but we don’t learn why. We gain virtually no insight into their relationship. At the end of the book, a character insists that Cham must try to escape because he is important to the revolution and because he has a daughter; this latter reasoning falls completely flat and reads like the afterthought that it is. Sure, she appears prominently in other media, but while each book doesn’t need to reexplain the rules of the galaxy or physically describe a Twi’lek in great detail each time, providing insight into a fraught relationship, especially when it should be taking up psychological real estate for a main character, should probably be at least a secondary priority. I don’t believe I saw a reference to Hera’s mother, but don’t worry, Cham has a new, young woman he’s in love with. I don’t believe “freedom fighter” Isval’s age is ever specified, but I came away with the implication that she might be about the same age as Cham’s daughter.

I was hoping that a book that would take place primarily on Ryloth, home of the Twi’leks, and follow Twi’lek rebels might provide more insight into their unique culture in the new canon. We get a good sense of Ryloth’s geography, and some glimpses of what their cities and towns may be like, and we certainly get a good look at the native predators, but I’d say that culture remains lacking. Sure, that might be part of the point–these rebel freedom fighters have given up everything in their devotion to a cause, and the Empire has leached Ryloth of its character in its demand for spice and slaves. It’s still disappointing. Even freedom fighters aren’t fighting for (or against) freedom all the time; they still have to be humans (or the nearest alien equivalent), and they should have traditions they see as valuable and worth preserving. The family entertainment cartoon show Rebels has provided a better glimpse into Twi’lek art, culture, and family structures. Disappointing.

This novel sees the first new-canon LGBTQ character, Moff Delian Mors. There is the suggestion of an interesting character here midway through the book when we are briefly told that she was once a good officer until her wife died, at which point she descended into a sort of drug-addled stupor until the crisis of the novel. But since that happens in about a paragraph of exposition midway through, what we really have is a fat, lazy, degenerate, drug-abusing, slave-keeping lesbian who rushes to push the blame for a major Imperial loss onto one of her subordinates. She does help save the day for the Dark Side by the end, but she is unimpressive. There’s nothing wrong with a villainous gay character, and flawed protagonists are more interesting and human. Nonetheless, to have the first canonically gay Star Wars character veer toward what TV Tropes might classify under the Depraved Homosexual or Psycho Lesbian categories is ill-considered and in poor taste.

But the action scenes are mostly really good. There are a lot of action scenes, and Kemp often infuses a sense of tension and terror into the scenes from rebel perspectives when being pursued by the nightmare that is Darth Vader. There are also some mindlessly large and loud fight scenes, where Vader murders groups of soldiers or dozens of giant predators. Many of these scenes seem better-suited to a comic strip or video game, where the visual element can provide awe and spectacle. I can even point to really explosively interesting new-canon displays of Dark Side power in, for instance, Marvel’s Darth Vader comic run. As it is, in book form these scenes constitute a lot of words devoted to chasing and killing. If you like military action thriller novels, this might actually seem like a strength to you, but I was disappointed here as well.

Also, the action was at times confusing and even outright contradictory. For instance, the number of remaining guards fluctuates. Vader pilots the Emperor’s doomed shuttle to the surface of Ryloth. In the crash landing, the Emperor and Vader survive. We quickly learn that most of the remainder died. Two guards who had remained strapped in rose to their feet, alive. A third was unconscious but executed because evil dudes weed out the weak and whatnot. Palpatine says, “And now there are four” survivors, referring to himself, Vader, and the two guards who stood. Yet later, when the party is under attack by rebel starships, a laser blast is “slammed into the chest of a Royal Guard and vaporized all of him save for his helmet.” On the very next page, we are back to two guards again, when there should be one, and those two guards remain until one is killed again, for good, toward the end. This was an early printing of a first edition, though, and I suspect that issues like this may be fixed in later editions. It’s still quite jarring and beyond the normal minor typographic errors one might expect in a published novel.

In short, I would not recommend this book. Unless you feel the need to read everything Vader, or everything Twi’lek, or you’re just a Star Wars completionist, I think it’s safe to pass over this novel.

P.S. You may be curious as to why my top image is a video game screenshot instead of a picture of the book cover. Simply, it’s because this book felt more like a Dark Side power fantasy in line with a video game than a typical Star Wars book. In Battlefront II (that old classic–I know next to nothing about the new release), you could play as the Emperor, among other heroes and villains, darting around the map and spraying Force lightning on your enemies. That’s pictured up top. But there’s also the strategy game Empire at War, which has a mission in which Palpatine goes alone to Bothawui to eliminate an entire city of traitorous Bothans. The mission plot has some parallels to Lords of the Sith. While not quite that over-the-top, those video game power fantasy narratives are what I had in mind when reading.

“The Wrong Jedi,” and a bad trial, too

As I continue to set up this new blog and decide how I want to handle frequency of new posts, I’ve decided to post some older blog entries from my days as a solo attorney. My posts on my law firm site already got a little weird–I can become a little preoccupied with my personal interests, what can I say. Below is one of those older posts, slightly revised and adapted for this new site.


It took me a while to get into Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but once I did, I fell in love. It’s fast-paced, feels clearly inspired by the serials and films that also inspired George Lucas in creating the franchise, and is not afraid to experiment with genre-bending narrative arcs. If asked to name my favorite Star Wars characters, Ahsoka Tano, Cad Bane, and Hondo Ohnaka—characters introduced and defined by the show—would be near the top of that list. And the series manages to provide a corrective for the weaknesses of the prequel trilogy, providing substantial depth to Obi-Wan and Anakin, giving a greater role to Padme, and even redeeming Jar-Jar Binks (although to what extent is surely the sort of observation that varies wildly from viewer to viewer).

Clone Wars isn’t perfect, of course. And for every moment that provides greater context to an under-developed idea from the films, there is a sequence that strikes me, at least, as confusing or half-baked. In example, look to Episode 20 of The Clone Wars Season 5. (Not sure if it matters this far out, but spoilers follow.)

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This episode, “The Wrong Jedi,” wraps up the season, as well as the story arc of the bombing of the Jedi Temple and the framing of Ahsoka for that attack. Over the course of the episode, the Jedi Council exiles Ahsoka from the Order so that they will not be seen as protecting their own from punishment, Ahsoka is placed on trial by the Republic, and Anakin is able to track down the real traitor to the Jedi and the Republic before Ahsoka is found guilty. While Ahsoka is acquitted and her position within the Order is offered back to her, she decides to leave the Order behind.

This was a well-paced episode, and it ended the fifth season on a brooding and contemplative note. The action scenes are great—especially when Anakin and the Temple guards face off against Barriss Offee. The use of an external conflict to highlight the internal conflicts of Ahsoka and Anakin is well done. Some might disagree with the abrupt direction that the show took Barriss Offee, but that level of personal sudden betrayal serves to drive a schism between Ahsoka, Anakin, and the Order and showcases how powerfully the Dark Side can affect even those with the best of intentions (see also, Count Dooku, Pong Krell, and Anakin himself).

My problem, to the extent that there is a problem at all, is with the trial scene in the episode. Trial scenes are often only loose caricatures of the real thing. This makes sense; dramatic narrative and controlled pacing are more important than devoted accuracy in most courtroom scenes. But there is typically at least some degree of verisimilitude. ”The Wrong Jedi” lacks this and features a wildly bizarre trial.

Toward the start of the episode, Admiral Tarkin tells the Jedi Council that the Senate wants to have Ahsoka indicted for treason. The Senate apparently believes that an internal Jedi trial would seem biased, and asks that the Jedi Council expel Ahsoka from the Order so that she may be tried before a Republic military tribunal. The Council does as asked in the end, and Ahsoka is taken to trial…but it doesn’t really seem like a military tribunal.

Chancellor Palpatine presides over the trial, apparently acting as judge. Vice Chair Mas Amedda brings the trial into session by tapping his staff against the floor a few times. A few members of the Jedi Council sit as onlookers. Senator Padme Amidala serves as Ahsoka’s legal representative, for some reason. And Admiral Tarkin acts as a prosecutor. Apparently there is no special training for lawyers in the Star Wars Galaxy. The apparent jury is made up of Senators.

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Palpatine announces that Ahsoka has been charged with sedition against the Jedi Order and the Republic. This is somewhat interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, even assuming Tarkin’s narrative of events, charging Ahsoka with sedition against the Jedi Order is probably not too plausible. Treason is the attempt to overthrow the government of the state to which one owes allegiance; sedition is advocacy intended to incite imminent lawless action like treason (both definitions here based on the entries for “treason” and “sedition” in Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th edition). You could more generally say that treason is the betrayal of your own government, and sedition is attempting to get others to rebel against the government. The Jedi Order is not a government. I suppose the question becomes, is it part of the government? It is a religious and philosophical monastic order, but I don’t believe that it is actually part of the government. The Jedi certainly act on behalf of the Republic, and they are appointed Commanders and Generals within the Grand Army of the Republic, but I don’t think I’m aware of a source that clearly states the Jedi role within the government, although I’ve certainly seen plenty of essays assuming the Order’s role as a government agency (beyond merely individuals’ roles as government agents) to be fact. The pseudo-canon Revenge of the Sith novelization has evidence to suggest that the Jedi Order is a nongovernmental organization and that the Jedi are a governmental body. In Chapter 10, Yoda and Mace Windu discuss an amendment to the Security Act that would “nominally” place the Jedi under the control of the Supreme Chancellor–although Yoda insists that “the Jedi he cannot control. Moral, our authority has always been; much more than merely legal. Simply follow orders, Jedi do not!” A moment later, Yoda suggests that even if the Jedi were disbanded, “even without legal authority,” they would still be Jedi. Either way, that whole conversation takes place during the events of Episode III, and thus after the events of this episode of The Clone Wars, so however this amendment would have affected the Jedi’s role within the government would not be relevant in the timeline I am considering. Maybe a later source has more directly answered the question, but it’s certainly confusing to me.

Second, note that Tarkin suggested an indictment for treason, and at the trial Ahsoka has been charged with sedition. But these are separate charges. The U.S. government, for example, defines them differently, so this isn’t purely semantic. Treason is committed by someone who owes “allegiance to the United States” yet who nonetheless “levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere” (18 U.S.C. §2381). Seditious conspiracy is separately defined as when two or more persons in a jurisdiction subject to the United States “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof” (18 USC §2384).

But we’ve just discussed the named charges so far.

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In his opening statements, Tarkin spells out the prosecution’s version of events and asks for the death penalty. So we know that a punishment for sedition in the Old Republic is the death penalty. In her own opening statement, Padme says that Ahsoka is being framed and tells the “members of the court” that they are “prosecuting the wrong Jedi.” Tarkin then launches into a rebuttal. At this point, the trial seems less like a trial and more like a debate. And then it devolves further. Suddenly, Ahsoka is the one responding to Tarkin. There is apparently no clear procedure to be followed at all; Old Republic litigants apparently just argued with each other until there was nothing more to say. There is no entry of evidence; no witnesses are brought forward (except for the Perry Mason-style surprise reveal of the real traitor, complete with confession, at the moment before a final judgment is handed down).

Near the end of the trial, Palpatine—the apparent judge—launches into his own speech to implicate Ahsoka as the guilty party. What role does this play in the trial?

Finally, the “members of the court” (who may or may not be Senators) reach a decision and send the verdict by datapad transmission to the Vice Chair, who passes it onto Palpatine. Somehow, even as Palpatine is announcing the verdict, Anakin is allowed to interrupt the proceedings to present new evidence.

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A system wherein most of a criminal trial is debate without evidence, there are no obviously honored procedural rules, and the judge delivers a speech to attempt to persuade jurors to accept his favored outcome before a verdict is entered seems to me like a very broken system indeed. It most certainly does not reflect democratic ideals about fair play and justice.

For that matter, how exactly is Ahsoka being tried? The episode simultaneously suggests that the Senate is indicting her, and that she will be tried by a military tribunal.

It might make sense for Ahsoka to be tried in a military court, since she is a member of the military as a commanding officer of clone troops. But if it is a military tribunal, why is Palpatine the judge (saying that he is the Supreme Commander of the military feels like a little bit of a cop-out), and why is the jury apparently composed of Senators? On the other hand, if it is not a military tribunal, why is Admiral Tarkin the prosecutor?

And what is the Senate doing indicting her? Is there no separate judicial branch of government? This question, at least, can be answered: Attack of the Clones specifically references a “Supreme Court,” which apparently held trials of Nute Gunray. Since having the legislature try criminal cases would basically defeat the separation of powers implied by a distinct judicial branch, and since such a process would seem to be rather inefficient, why then would the legislature be indicting someone for a crime, much less trying them?

And for that matter, why are there no lawyers?

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In short, the trial on display in “The Wrong Jedi” is a hodgepodge of dramatic scenery pulled from various legal systems and, probably more importantly, pop culture presentations of those legal systems. Within the confines of the in-universe Star Wars Galaxy, though, one must wonder how the Old Republic survived for as long as it did with such a broken, dysfunctional court system. We can hand-wave all of the seeming inconsistencies away by simply saying that the Star Wars legal system is rather alien to us, but we can’t remove the underlying justice issues that must bubble up within this alien system.

If you have an alternative take or additional insight, please let me know. It would be great if there is a canon explanation for the weirdness of the court system, but I would guess that the answer is that this is an underdeveloped plot device used to underscore the dramatic tension of Ahsoka’s predicament.