Star Wars

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Voices in her Head: Mara Jade

Mara Jade
Second-in-Command to Talon Karrde
Former Emperor's Hand
(uh, what's with all the necklaces??)

When I write about Mara Jade, I want to write about how she changed my life; how I'd never read a character like her (though, granted, I was ten the first time I read Heir), who was powerful and strong and self-reliant and self-made. I want to write about how, at an uneasy time of transition in my own life, Mara Jade inspired me and helped stabilize me when the real world felt shaky and unsure.

But it's not time for that post yet. Mara's story is just beginning in the Thrawn Trilogy and I don't want to get ahead of myself. Instead, I want to write about something that occurred to me during this upteenth rereading of The Last Command.

Mara hears voices in her head. She's not the only one.

One of the scariest things about insane clone Jedi Master Joruus C'Baoth is the way he talks about bending another person's mind to his will; in The Last Command he shows how thoroughly he can do this and the limitations of breaking in the mind to the point that it can't sustain itself. General Covell succumbs to C'Baoth's manipulation on their jounrey to Wayland together and when C'Baoth loses his mental contact with Covell when they hit the Force-empty ysalamari bubble around Mount Tantiss, Covell's mind is so totally dependent on C'Baoth's control of it that it breaks (as Thrawn theorizes shortly thereafter).

C'Baoth criticizes the late Emperor for not having the skill in the Force to bend another's mind to his will as completely as C'Baoth does but what if the Emperor did have that power but was much wiser in his application of it? What if he used his wiser application of the ability on Mara Jade, his Hand, who could "hear his voice from anywhere in the Empire?" What if he left her free will intact but became a part of her mind over a long period of time, insinuating himself into her consciousness without breaking or changing the essence of who she is?

Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand
Forgive me if these speculations seem obvious. I'll try to clarify. It's clear that Mara has been manipulated by the Emperor - how else would he have convinced her to serve him when she so clearly has a strong internal sense of ethics and morality that's counter to what the Emperor would have asked her to do? But then, consider her directive, "You will kill Luke Skywalker," and the powerful emotions that accompany it. It does make sense that she'd be angry at Luke's part in the Emperor's death, which did "destroy her life." It doesn't make sense that she's so totally devistated and single-minded in her goal of killing him, even after it becomes clear that she doesn't really know the whole story, nor Luke himself.

I know an obvious counter-argument here is that Mara was raised by the Emperor from girlhood. During formative years, the Empire was her life and her home, and the Emperor, her parent. Without the Force, the Emperor would still have had a great deal of influence over the formation of her beliefs and understanding of the universe. Having said that, to take a child away from her parents and convince her to work as hard as Mara would have had to to become the Emperor's Hand in the first place implies an intensive and long-term application of Force manipulation on Mara, simply to convince her to leave her parents and then to train in a gruelling and possibly cruel way throughout her child and teeage-hood.

Mara Jade, Smuggler
It's pretty clear that Mara is never really in danger of succumbing to C'Baoth's Dark Side overtures - in an ironic twist of fate, she even begs Luke to kill her, rather than let her join C'Baoth. Luke himself nearly falls to the Dark Side on Jomark because he has no way of recognizing the subtlety of C'Baoth's manipulation. Mara recognizes it and revolts against it from her first meeting with him, also on Jomark. Part of it is, of course, that she knows whose side C'Baoth is on. But I speculate that part of it is also that she understands, somewhere inside herself, what it means to be manipulated and to lose control of herself. From her first meeting with C'Baoth onward, she fights the Emperor's last command and, too, his hold on her. By the time she faces her battle with Luke's clone in Mount Tantiss, Mara is almost free of its influence. In fact, when she finally gives in to the voice and kills the Luuke clone, she's actually subverting the Emperor's obvious intent by saving the real Luke's life.

More on Mara and her fabulous storyline to come. In the meantime, I need to start working on a post for "Scoundrels," which I just finished this afternoon!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cough, cough... use the ACHOO Force... wheeze... Luke

Cough, hack, can't lead the Empire today, Master...
Going on my fourth day of being sick, I'm nursing my coughing and hacking with my copy of "Dark Force Rising." While I do believe I'm going to have to go back and reread everything I've read during this time (I keep getting it mixed up with Law & Order SVU, which is my trashy TV choice for this particular cold), I'm still enjoying the heck out of this trilogy.

Es challenged me to write about some of the strong women Zahn uses in his books, and I've decided, as germy as I am, to write a little about Mon Mothma.

As a child, watching the original movies, I always wondered who the "Lady in White" was. She was the only other woman in the universe besides Aunt Beru, Leia and Jabba's dancers. But the movie didn't focus on her, so I only thought about her when I watched Return of the Jedi, and she has her brief speech scene, then I would focus back on Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie. It wasn't until I read Zahn's trilogy for the first time that I realized that Mon Mothma was an actual, real character in the Star Wars universe, not just someone who gave grand speeches about defeating the Empire. Through Zahn's words, she becomes a strong leader, though divided by loyalties and promises she made while the Rebellion was fighting the Emperor and Darth Vader. Promises made during wartime are a whole new thing when the war is "won." Which, as we read in the Heir trilogy, it's not quite over, not while Thrawn is still breathing anyway. Zahn throws curveball after Bothan at Mon Mothma as she struggles to hold her fragile New Republic together. Toss in a grand admiral hell bent on causing organized chaos, and I was totally hooked on this new series that actually had more than two women in it. In fact, it had many powerhouse leaders and survivors who, I think, should have been lauded more in the movies. Why, George Lucas, why would you give us a glimpse of this amazing "Lady in White" who gives amazing speeches, and not create a whole back story for her? That we can watch on screen?
Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith

Thankfully, Zahn was there to fill in the gaps for a young girl who, while not at a loss for strong female role models, could still always use one more. I immediately hooked onto Mon Mothma, because she was the leader of the New Republic. Not some man (Mon Calamarian? Side note: for the longest time I though Admiral Ackbar was in charge, since, you know, he led the charge against the second Death Star...). George Lucas was tricky about that, he threw a lot of unexplained older looking characters into the three classic movies without any real explanation, so the audience disregards them and focuses on Han, Leia, and Luke, but also sees there is a hierarchy to the Rebellion. The uppity ups are so important for this trilogy. But I was so thrilled, and am again, to read Zahn's version of Mon Mothma, who works so hard to hold everything together as Thrawn threatens to blow it all apart. Not to mention factions within the New Republic (haaack, cough, Bothans...). I'm very much looking forward to reading about Mon Mothma, and how she deftly works the Republic out of this new predicament.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Trust in the Judgment of a Jedi: Joruus C'Baoth

Jedi Master Joruus C'Baoth
Dude's clearly out of his mind. Let's just start there.

As I turned the final page of Dark Force Rising last week and sat there, trying to figure out how I was going to not write twenty-five different blog posts about all the different thoughts, emotions, and new observations crowding into my head at once, it occurred to me that Joruus C'Baoth is an enigma worth his own post (and if I refuse him one, I hate to think what he'd do ...).

Like so many of Zahn's other characters, C'Baoth isn't just evil. Dark Force Rising is the only book in the series where readers actually get to see events from C'Baoth's point of view and then, only when he's alone on Jomark. Egotistical and power-hungry C'Baoth might be, convinced that he "had found the true meaning of power", but he's also struggling with the nature of himself (Dark Force 22). He's paradoxically driven to twist and warp the minds of those around him, bending them to his will even as he's physically and emotionally hurt by his own actions: "It was hard ... to hold his thoughts and feelings closey in line" (Dark Force 29). His own nature is apparently driving him to madness. Just using the Force causes him pain: "It was hard to concentrate - so very hard - but with a perverse grimness he ignored the fatigue-driven pain and kept at it" (Dark Force 92). A healthy living being's reaction to pain is to avoid it or cure it, if at all possible. C'Baoth continues to push himself further into it and, while he continues to gather power to himself, also continues to destabilize his own mind, driving himself further into madness.

Captain Pellaeon, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Jed Master C'Baoth
This self-destructive pattern makes him all-the-more dangerous, something Luke begins to recognize (as does the reader) during his brief stay with C'Baoth on Jomark. C'Baoth's solution to a conflict is to control it and treat the parties to that conflict as "lesser beings," whom he claims "hate [the Jedi] for our power, and our knowledge, and our wisdom" (Dark Force 292). C'Baoth's solution is to take absolute control of the conflict and manipulate it until the solution appears and is enforced as he wants it. There are plenty of other characters in Zahn's universe who have control issues (ahem, Councilor Borsk Fey'leya) but C'Baoth stands out as truly dangerous because he has the power to force others to let him take control. Interestingly enough, it's Captain Pellaeon, simple Imperial captain serving under the power and vastly intellectually superior Grand Admiral Thrawn, who expresses ambivolence about attempting to harness C'Baoth's insanity for the Empire's use, even going so far as to argue with his superior officer about it: "And what happens when we've bent the rules so far that they come around and stab us in the back .... until [C'Baoth's] doing what he damn well pleases and to blazes with the Empire [and everyone else]" (Dark Force 88). Of course, Pellaeon's concerns are justified, which becomes slowly apparent as the trilogy progresses.

Another round of applause to Zahn for creating a truly terrifying villain (or is he a victim? He is a clone, after all) ...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ro interrupts your regularly schedule blog for Scoundrels!

 What better way to celebrate the new year than with Timothy Zahn's brand new Star Wars novel, Scoundrels? I can't think of one, honestly.

Family? Friends? Booze? I'll pass on all, thank you, as long as I have my copy of Scoundrels! And I do, a little ahead of schedule. It helps to know people (which I do, as does Es). I'm not too far into it, just about ninety pages or so, but I'm enjoying the heck out of it so far!

As promised to Es, no spoilers! But the general plot summary is as follows: crime is afoot! And Han Solo is asked to intervene and steal back 163 million credits taken from a man whose father (an innocent merchant, or so we are to believe...) was murdered for the money. Han takes the job and assembles a crack team to recover the credits to be split up (and therefore paying off his debt to Jabba) between the man who hires the crew and the crew themselves. This book takes place in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. And that's basically the premise. At least the premise that we start with. If I know anything about Zahn, I know that things are not nearly as simple as they first appear. Maybe this book will be the Star Wars version of Oceans 11 that it initially seems, but I doubt it. Zahn excels at throwing wrenches into everyone's plans. Especially his main characters! And can I just say that I'm excited that Han is getting a bit of the limelight. A whole book about him and his team, and I couldn't be happier. Luke and Leia are all well and good, but let's face it, Han needs to have a solo adventure (Oh yeah, I totally went there)! So, let's sit back and enjoy the ride.

And from us here at the Star Wars Bookshelves Revisited blog, Happy New Year!

UPDATE (1/4/2013) - As an addition to this fabulous post, please check out this totally awesome interview that did with peerless master of all things Star Wars, Timothy Zahn!

"'Star Wars' author Timothy Zahn on his Han Solo/'Ocean's Eleven' Hybrid, 'Scoundrels'"