Sunday, January 11, 2015

Guest Post: Two Halves of a Whole

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Deep in the Solo twins' separate crises in Dark Journey and Traitor, I paused in the New Jedi Order retrospective to consult Rocky Blonshine of Eleven Thirty-Eight about the Solo twins.  

Two halves of the same whole. Twins expected to fight to the death. “The one who knows me better than I know myself.” Two parallel stories.

In the darkest hour of the war against the Yuuzhan Vong, we take a break from the fighting for two character studies. Jacen and Jaina represent two of the most prominent Yuuzhan Vong gods, and their already well-defined personalities take on new depth in their adventures alone. It’s not quite a diversion from the war- war is still at the forefront, and both twins are experiencing its effects and fighting despite the focus on their character development. However, halfway through the war, it’s important to take a break from the war itself.

There are several different ways to read the New Jedi Order, and one that’s recently been brewing in my mind has been to read Dark Journey and Traitor as two halves of the same whole. Chronologically, they are set in a similar time, along with the Enemy Lines duology as their counterpart focusing on the civilians and Yuuzhan Vong war effort. Though their adventures are very different, the end goal is the same. They are both going to find their purpose and the way they will fight the war, and the keys to defeating the Yuuzhan Vong. The overall theme of the time between Star by Star and Destiny’s Way is of gathering forces, determining just what the war is about and what’s at stake, and what each side is willing to do to win. Finally, planting the seeds of the war’s endgame is important even at this early stage, and Jacen and Jaina have to step back from their main roles as soldiers and Jedi in order to determine where they are going next. They have come of age during war, and now it is time to decide where they are going. 

Jacen and Jaina have had their lives completely upended, and their parallel stories of self-discovery are the culmination of what began in Vector Prime. Though neither of them end their character development at this point, separating the twins and having them find their characters separately is really what the New Jedi Order needs. We’ve already seen a diverse Jedi order fighting the Yuuzhan Vong in whatever ways they each can, and putting two of their most prominent young members into separate journeys is essential for the conclusion of the NJO.

Jacen and Jaina are two very different people, and they are best defined by being apart from each other. Jaina has no idea that Jacen is alive, and is understandably unable to deal with the loss of two brothers on the same day. She blames herself for not being able to save them, is trying to find her place as a fighter pilot and a Jedi, and finds herself entangled in Hapan politics while she is still trying to work through her grief. Jacen has been captured by Vergere (and the Yuuzhan Vong) and is isolated, believed dead, and unable to access the Force. He is forced to consider his place in the Jedi and the universe itself, exactly who he is, and how he wants to use the Force going forward. Nothing is obvious or necessarily what Jacen thought it would be, and by the time Jacen returns home, he has been changed forever. 

Dark Journey is a character study of Jaina Solo at one of the most difficult points in her life. She is fighting her anger and the temptation of the dark side, reeling from losing two brothers in the same day, placed in the middle of a delicate and dangerous political game as the galaxy crumbles and Coruscant is remade into Yuuzhan’tar. The backdrop of a galaxy at war allows us to take a close look at the girl who will become one of the finest warriors the Jedi will see, and shows us what she’s made of. All of the action and political intrigue fits Jaina’s character well, building her into a powerful Jedi without sacrificing her morality or the energy that had characterized the younger Jaina.

Though Dark Journey introduces a good deal of important plot, it is still easily read as a character study of Jaina. She needs a resolution to her anger and all of the trauma she has recently experienced, as well as some direction as a young Jedi. Finding Kyp as a mentor, someone who has been through the dark side and back, as well as learning a bit about politics, helps Jaina find where she best fits in the Jedi. By the end of the story, Jaina is still dealing with her problems (and the loss of her brothers), but is much more capable of doing so. It’s a good foreshadowing of her becoming the Sword of the Jedi.

In Dark Journey, Jaina learns what not to do, and those lessons stay with her and make her into the Sword of the Jedi. Her brush with the dark side is necessary for her character development. Jaina has always been the more brash one, prone to acting before thinking and facing her anger more than many of the others. She needs to confront her anger, and a quick brush with the dark side is just what she needs. Jacen’s utter transformation is controversial and leads to one of the most difficult plot developments in the Expanded Universe - his fall to the dark side in Legacy of the Force. Nonetheless, Traitor sends Jacen into a journey of introspection and discovery, and he finds his place as a contemplative and thoughtful Jedi who will consider the consequences of his actions carefully, more in tune with the Force itself than many of the other Jedi. Their utter transformations mirror each other, and once reunited they are confident in their roles, able to take their places as the defenders of the galaxy against the Yuuzhan Vong.

Traitor is possibly the most challenging Star Wars book to read. It’s more a philosophy book than anything else, and we spend much of the book listening to Vergere and Jacen discuss the Force, their relationship to the Force, and what exactly Jacen’s identity and destiny are. Its tone is completely different from the rest of the New Jedi Order, and the exploration of Jacen’s character is probably the most in-depth we ever see him. The constant philosophy is not always comprehensible, and later Jacen-centric work often suffers from the problem of not knowing how to incorporate Traitor into Jacen’s future and outlook on the universe. What if we were to consider it as a character study, also? Vergere is Jacen’s mentor who meshes perfectly with how he views the galaxy, helping him question conventional wisdom about the Force effectively and shaping Jacen into an unconventional and extremely effective Jedi. Though Traitor doesn’t seem to fit with the NJO tone-wise, it is a very essentially Jacen sort of book, and no other style would really work for Jacen’s journey “through the lands of the dead.”

Reading Dark Journey and Traitor as counterparts gives shape to the fight against the Yuuzhan Vong during the most difficult hour of the war. The Jedi are scattered, Coruscant has fallen, and two of the most prominent Jedi of the new Jedi order have to find their way in this new galaxy. We are getting both Jacen’s and Jaina’s stories, and we have to read them as two halves of one whole. The civilian side of the story is told by Enemy Lines, leaving Dark Journey and Traitor to give the Solo twins the characterization they need to finish the war. Though neither book is necessarily easy to read, both are essential to form the background for destroying the Yuuzhan Vong and restoring the galaxy as we know it.

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Rocky can also be found on Twitter at @ladydarthcaedus.

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