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.

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!

View all my reviews

Kylo Ren’s Disturbing Power

In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren’s Force ability to mentally probe others and read their deepest thoughts is portrayed as violating and painful. I think it is safe to say that the way Kylo uses the Force to invade the minds of others is a form of torture, and yet it is disturbingly intimate.

I had not realized how much the power echoed sexual assault, however, until I read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization. Not only does it embellish the scene, but it has affected my viewing of the scene in the film.

As with the film, the book’s first presentation of the mind probe power is minimal, with a quick cut away to the aftermath. “A hand extended toward the shackled prisoner. Silent agony followed soon after.” And Kylo demands that Poe tell him what he wants to know. That’s it.

The two scenes in which Kylo Ren interrogates Rey also match the film by being far more involved. Alan Dean Foster substantially cranks up the invasive, disturbing language for these sections.

From the capture and first interrogation:

Shutting down and belting his lightsaber, Ren contemplated his immobile captive. Reaching up slowly, he touched her face. The pressure he applied was not physical. Refusing to meet his gaze, she looked away, straining with the agony of resistance, hardly daring to breathe. If only she could get a hand free, a leg–but no part of her body responded to her commands.

Surprised by what he was finding, Ren lowered his hand. Relieved of the mental intrusion, she sucked in great, long draughts of air.

. . . .

He touched her anew. This time the pain of trying to stave him off brought tears streaming down her face. He was within her mind and her thoughts, and there was nothing–nothing!–she could do to keep him out. To resist. But she kept trying, trying…

. . . .

She could hardly swallow as she strained to pull away from him, anything to pull away, to get him out.

She wanted to scream, but he would not allow it.

And from the second interrogation:

“I would have preferred to avoid this. Despite what you may believe, it gives me no pleasure. I will go as easily as possible–but I will take what I need.”

She knew that trying to resist him physically would not only be useless but would likely result in unpleasantness of a kind she preferred not to imagine. So she remained motionless and silent, her arms at her sides, as his hand rose toward her face. He touched her again, as he had in the forest on Takodana.

And hesitated. What was that? Something there. Something unexpected.

As she strained to resist the probe, he pushed into her, brushing aside her awkward attempts to keep him out. While he investigated her mind, he spoke softly.

. . . .

Tears were streaming down her face from the effort she was making to withstand him. Increasingly desperate, she did try to strike out. But just as on Takodana, her body refused to respond.

. . . .

All the rage and terror bottled up inside her came out as she turned to meet his stare.

“Get–out–of–my–head.”

It only made him lean in closer, enhancing her feeling of complete helplessness.

. . . .

Where the strength to defy him came from she did not know, but if anything, her voice grew a little stronger. “I’m not giving you anything.”

His response reflected his unconcern. “We’ll see.”

Immediately following this, Rey overcomes Ren’s mind probe, unlocking her own latent Force ability–clearly to the surprise of both her and Kylo Ren.

It’s still impressive that she turned the tables on Kylo, but the scene as written nonetheless felt…bothersome to me, due to the excessively heavy-handed language of invasion.

I won’t claim any extensive research into discussion surrounding this topic, but I was somewhat surprised to see that the disturbing implications of this scene largely seem to be limited to a forum on TheForce.Net, where a surprising number of people argue against (what seem to me and apparently several others) the obvious implications of the scene. Of course, here I’m specifically talking about the book and they are discussing the movie; as I noted in my review of the novelization, there are enough distinctions and contradictions between the two that while the movie informs the book, the book does not really inform the movie, and any particular insights into characters or events provided by the book are probably limited to the book itself.

Still, watch the scene again if you have any doubts. It’s disturbing. The book heightens the sexual assault imagery, I think, but it’s all there in some form in the film–Rey is restrained, Ren says he can take whatever he wants, and Ren appears to enjoy asserting dominance over Rey and being able to subjugate her and penetrate her mind.

What’s amazing to me–and evidenced by the aforementioned forum–is that there is still a vocal contingent of people shipping Rey/Ren, or Reylo, or whatever else they want to call it. Even if we downplay the sexual assault imagery (and I do think it’s a little less on-the-nose in the film, but that’s just my two cents), Ren tortured Rey. No healthy relationship is likely to grow out of that–especially a romantic one. It would make sense in the context of the prior films that Ren might ultimately be redeemed (Anakin, after all, murdered a master of the Order, a room full of children, and his mentor/best friend; directly contributed to the death of his wife; assisted in the destruction of an entire planet; tortured rebels just to torment them; and attempted to kill his own son). But “redemption” doesn’t need to mean that all past sins are simply forgiven, or that there is a big reset on a deeply toxic and troubling relationship (again looking at Anakin, he bought his redemption with his own life). Reylo adherents seem to be picking at straws, and while no romantic relationship is necessitated by The Force Awakens, it is rather bizarre to me that they would favor Reylo over the obvious chemistry and mutual attraction between Rey and Finn.


P.S. There also seem to be people who see little to no distinction between the “mind probe” Force power and the “mind trick” Force power. I think the distinction is important; the former seeks to dominate/penetrate a mind, while the latter only seeks to convince/persuade/influence. Wookieepedia does a good job as usual in breaking down the differences between the mind probe and the mind trick.