Ask a Star Wars Geek 08

Greetings, all. I've just started tearing through Choices of One by Mr. Zahn himself, so anticipate a review soon, and anticipate a good one.

I've been working every day since my last post (which I finished at work), so this week is a little lighter. Also, my pool of questions is rather low, but that's alright, because this is where you come in.

Send me your questions, comments, concerns about SW at starwarsgeek@txwatson.com, and there's a really good chance you'll see it here soon. This column is a two way street--if you want me to answer, you need to question!

Now, to your pressing questions:

Nate S. asks:

"How many species are there? How is it possible to have so many forms of sentient life so close together? Was there one original sentient species that set into motion all the others?"

Off the top of my head, I can tell you that there are millions of known sentient species in SW, and for every two known there's probably a third unknown[1. This is a very rough estimation, of course.]. According to Wookieepedia, there are 20 million known sentient species.

This article actually starts with a quote which I think helps the credibility of so many sentient species existing:

"In our efforts, we have learned that life is not rare. Rather, given a chance, life will occur. It is tenacious, aggressive—it seems to crave existence."

-Tem Eliss, sentiologist

Star Wars is probably most accurate defined as a science fantasy: that is, it has fantasy elements--the Force itself--and science fiction elements--space ships, light sabers, etc. But even though the Force is a particularly fantastic element, especially in the original trilogy, it was explained and explained again as other science fiction writers picked up the torch and kept running, always looking to explain how everything worked.

Lucas himself fed that when he introduced the idea of midichlorians, still a hotly debated topic[2. In some circles, anyway. I suppose you don't see many fights breaking out in the street about it.], which put the most measurable and scientific angle on it to date. And if we accept that this universe has an energy field which has a "will[3. I believe it was Qui-Gon Jin who once said, (and I'm paraphrasing) 'We say that we follow the will of the Force, but saying the Force wills us to do something is like a person ignorant of gravity saying the river flows to the ocean because it is the will of the river.']" This energy field is produced by life, and some argue creates it. So if we operate in a universe that has the Force, we operate in a universe particularly receptive to life and its development.

This, I think, answers the second part of the question. The last question I think may be the most interesting part.

I haven't read anything that would lead me to believe one sentient species created all the rest. There is far too much galaxy, far too many species. However, there certainly was one species, extinct before the formation of the Republic, more advanced in technology that the best tech of the Legacy era, which definitely had a hand in shaping the galaxy in a way they saw fit.

This race is known as the Celestials in Star Wars lore, and they did a whole bunch of really cool things then disappeared before anyone could ask them about it[4. On their Wookieepedia page you can actually read about a whole crapload of stuff they did, though they still are kind of mysterious in their dissapearance overall, as well as thier motives.]. Among these awesome exploits, they artificially created the Corellian system, which has five plants that all sustain life and three sentient species, Drall, Selonian, and Human living among them.

Two of the planets, Talus and Tralus, are locked in mutual orbit of each other, around a giant space station called Centerpoint Station, which sits in a Lagrangian point of the two planets, directly between them. Centerpoint dwarfed the first Death Star, and was actually a tool which was probably used to transport most if not all of the planets around Corell into their positions by sucking the planets from the stars they had been orbiting through hyperspace and depositing them around the star.

The Celestials are really mysterious, and they may or may not have had hand in creating species, though they likely could if they had wanted to.

Conclusion:

There you have my short post for this week. I'll see you next time, and until then,

May the Force be with you, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

Ask a Star Wars Geek 05

This week, I have recieved a question that both made me feel good to shed a little light on a galaxy far, far away, as well as make me feel a tad ashamed of myself. I let a friend, who I've tried to look out for like a little sister, wander through a life devoid of Star Wars. This post is for everyone who is afraid to admit that they might not have actually seen the movies, read the books, or dare I say even handled an Admiral Ackbar action figure and shouted, "It's a trap!"

(A brief sidenote: If you don't know much about Star Wars and don't like spoilers, it's almost never a good idea to click anything I link, especially when the link leads to Wookieepedia.)

Kara Jade asks:

"Dear Mike,

As your little sister, a self-proclaimed nerdy girl, and a student of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, my lack of Star Wars exposure/knowledge is appalling. I am frequently ridiculed (especially by my friends here at school) because:

1) I have never seen any of the movies

2) I have never read any of the books

3) I have never played any of the games

4) I’ve never even perused the comic books

5) And I frequently do not understand witty/comical references to Star Wars characters, events, etc.

So recently I have begun to read your “Ask a Star Wars Geek” blog entries, and am intrigued. I had no idea (SPOILER removed[1. But placed here.]) had died! Or even that he was one of the main characters! I am ashamed. So my question to you is this: As an aspiring Star Wars geek, what would you recommend to a person just learning about Star Wars: movies, books, or something else? Is there a Star Wars for Dummies book I can keep an eye out for or find online?

I greatly appreciate your assistance in this matter, and I hope all is well.

~Your foolishly uneducated little sister"

As far as I have seen, there is no official SW for Dummies. That's ok. You just need to take it one step at a time.

Step 1: Watch the movies.

Now, it is a matter of some contention in which order should the movies be watched. For you and for everyone who is fresh to the series, I've sat in meditation as well as combed the internet, and I think I have found a suitable answer:

As posted here, there are a few different orders which make sense, but there is one that stands out for the new viewer. So my suggestion to you is the modified flashback sequence: Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. This is called the flashback sequence because the prequel episodes are viewed as flashbacks, giving the back story on the older characters in the series, and setting you up for the grand finale in Episode VI.

The astute reader will notice I've omitted Episode I: The Phantom Menace. While you can't get away with skipping it forever, there isn't much plot in it that isn't immediately covered in the beginning of Episode II. Of course, you'll never be up to scratch until you've seen it as well (after all, how else will you see the epicness that is Qui-Gon Jin?), but you can watch that later.

For the greatest possible first exposure to the movies, I reccomend to collect those five and watch them in that order. The reasoning is detailed in many places on the internet, that article included. Without ruining too much for you, realize that it makes sense continuity wise, plot twist wise, and graphics wise to watch them in that order. And skipping Ep I just saves time, and reduces the gap between Episodes V and VI while "flashing back."

Step 2: Read some books.

My next suggestion, if you wish to level-up your Star Wars geekdom, is to consider reading some of the Expanded Universe. The EU consists of everything that is officially liscenced SW material, but is not the movies (which includes the novelizations of the movies). If you want the prequel movies to make sense and be good, I might reccomend reading the novels of each, which are rather more enjoyable, give greater depth to the characters and their actions, and don't contain any of the widely disparaged acting of the prequel movies[2. I won't comment either way on the acting.].

If you'd rather jump to some completely unexplored territory, and think watching the movies was good enough, then possibly the best possible starting place to jump into the EU is Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy. Some of the earliest EU books ever, they are written for an audience that wasn't steeped in SW lore. They are excellently written, exciting, contain a great mix of characters old and new[2. Oh, Kara Jade, you may be surprised by the name of one of them], and start preparing you for SW outside of the movies, where things aren't black and white, and where you need a working knowledge of seafaring vocabulary[3. In space, you have a navy.].

Depending on what you think is cool about SW, there are myriad other places I could suggest from there. If you have more of a thing for fighter pilots and side characters, the X-Wing series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston gets one of my highest reccomendations[4. Stackpole himself loves the series, which only went out of print last year.] as a fun read, and has nine books (a tenth is in the works, I'm so excited!), so it offers a lot of reading. If that sounds daunting, the series can really be broken into parts, with the first four books being the Rogue Squadron arc, and the next three being the Wraith Squadron arc, and the last three being semi-independant. Certainly the last two happen after long gaps of time during which many other things happen in the SW galaxy, and those might be best waited for.

If you like the Jedi of old, then you'll be interested in the books around the time of the prequels, particularly the Clone Wars[4. Huge note here: The clone wars are a subject which make my blood boil. Due to George Lucas's rehashing of the period twice (as in there are 3 versions of events which are different), this era can be very confusing to the new fan. There were the original novels of the clone wars, which laid out the events first, and which I will always view as the real way it happened. Then there was a cartoon made, which changed some events around in a minor way that was mostly annoying but I could live with. Then there was a CG series which completely upset the entire coninuity of the Clone Wars and had repercussions across the SW Cannon, as well as books which agree with this new history which are published as the Clone Wars series (books which I am specifically boycotting). The original novels were fantastic, and to say they were all for nothing is an insult to the good work done by the authors who wrote them.]. In that period, my highest reccomendation goes to the novels of the Republic Commando series by Karen Traviss.

If the ancient Sith and Jedi battling it out is more your bag, then I'd point you to the Old Republic novels, which have been really cool at exploring the origins of the rivalry so familiar to SW fans.

If you want to see what Luke does after he takes the reigns, then I suggest the Jedi Academy trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson, which shows Luke founding a new order, and also Michael A. Stackpole's I, Jedi, right after that, as that novel tells the tale of the Jedi Academy trilogy from a different perspective, adding a character seemlessly into the events of the other novels. It's really quite an interesting read. After laying that ground work, you're ready to take the long road of the New Jedi Order, then onward to the Legacy of the Force and the Fate of the Jedi, to what I think of as galactic "present."[5. Which is 44 ABY, at the moment.]

To figure out when books happen chronologically in relation to eachother, you can look at the beginning of each, will have a timeline of books, or if you have the internet handy, you need look no further than my favorite page ever.

Books not nerdy enough for you?

Step 3: Video Games

There are a few video games which really bring the SW experience to life. Harkening back to the days of my youth, my first suggestion would be Dark Forces[6. This link leads to all of the games in this paragraph.] and Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. Unfortunately, most new PC's won't run DOS, so getting the former to run can be a challenge. Jedi Knight has an expansion, Mysteries of the Sith, which provides some of the backstory that's gone into such books as the Darth Bane trilogy. Not to mention they are SO FUN. There is also Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (which I've never played), and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (which I've seen a bit).

Another must play (which I'm a little embarrased to say I haven't) is Knights of the Old Republic (AKA KotOR) and Knights of the Old Republic II: The SIth Lords. These games are chock full of goodies in the Old Republic era, as well as being the source material for the Old Republic: Revan novel.

If you can find good oldies like Rogue Squadron (for the comp or for N64) play 'em! They're a great time. And even Battle for Naboo for the N64 does some fun playing with the story line of Episode I, in classic movie-video game tie in fashion.

Step 4: Become an even bigger geek than me by reading the comics.

Star wars has a rich comic/graphic novel tradition that has parralleled the growth seen in the novels. Many a time I lament my lack of comic book knowledge, when there is so much more to the EU that I've not even touched. The comics go a good 150 years after Episode IV, to a time that I still regard as the future of the SW universe.

Conclusion:

Well, I hope that this isn't too much to handle all at once, but if you just take it easy, start with the movies, and enjoy SW as a hobby, in a few years, you'll find yourself at a parties going, "Then Wedge Antillies said, 'I said "proton torpedo", not "proton burrido!"' Ah-hahaha!"

May the Force be with you, young padawan, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

SWG: How'd you like that book? Star Wars: Red Harvest

Greetings! Today is your first taste of the Star Wars Geek "How'd you like that book?" In a pact I've made with myself, much like Watson has done, I plan to review every book that passes under my nose!

...assuming it's a Star Wars book. I mean, I could review the other stuff too, but that'd be hardly keeping in theme.

C'mon.

Stop looking at me like that[1. Yes, I'm battling my conscience here.]...

Sigh, alright, I'll review every book I read. They're 90% Star Wars anyway[2. Which may not be the case for the rest of this summer as I've mostly read through my latest binge purchase, and they only write new SW books so fast.]. To pace myself, these posts will come on Sundays, and only if I'm really on a roll would I think of posting two in a given week (I'll stagger post them on that Sunday). To clarify, with my schedual, don't expect one of these every week, either.

So, Star Wars Geek, how did you like...

Star Wars: Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars: Red Harvest is the second Star Wars horror novel. It is set 3,645 BBY and is a prequel to the first Star Wars horror novel, Death Troopers, which takes place 1 BBY. Let me say up front that I don't normally read horror. Nor do I watch horror movies. This I attribute to not getting scared by such things very easily[3. At all, really.], and with out that element horror doesn't seem to hold much else[4. I do love psychological thrillers.].

One of the greatest things about Star Wars, is it offers so many different genres packed into another genre. From romance[5. Not strickly the kind of romance paperback you find at the pharmacy, but it's definitely a love story first.], to action adventure, to... well, ok, it's mostly action adventure, but there are definitely departures into other avenues here and there, and this is one.

That being said, this book gets a thumbs down: there were flaws in the writing, particularly when locating characters during a scene which could be disorienting, I didn't really feel attached to the characters (and therefore didnt feel concerned at their danger), and it felt like a rehash of the book it was supposed to set up, but with less credulity. Analysis below fold.

Review with spoilers continues below the fold.

One problem that I had with Red Harvest was that I'd already read Death Troopers. Don't get me wrong, I thought Death Troopers was cool. But the two books share a trait which as a reader I find profoundly off-putting, which is that people drop like flies. You better not be hoping to see some of these characters get fleshed out, because most of them don't last that long. Even the dramatis personae seems to be trying to trick you into thinking some of these characters are important by listing them in the first place, when one or two die pretty much on their first or second appearance.

The problem with gratuitous killing is that it destroys suspense. If you think a character is going to die, then you aren't apt to get attached to them or care if they are suddenly in mortal peril because you start getting really good at predicting what is going to happen: gorey death a or gorey death b.

The writing itself wasn't spectacular, and though there were moments where the voice and tone I had hoped for (a sort of creepy unease) were there, the feeling wasn't global. There also weren't any stylistic clues to make this feel like an Old Republic novel. While there isn't a ton of consistancy in the Old Republic as to in what ways people speak differently given the several thousand years of separation from the classic era, (let's face it, people even speak a little differently in the prequel era, and that is only 20-30 years before the OT[6. Original Trilogy]), as a reader I like if at least the colloquialisms don't come across like this is set in contemporary America.

Getting over that complaint, the prose could be pretty, but wasn't beautiful. There was good use of metaphorical language, for instance, "On either side, shelves were shuddering and collapsing with frightening speed, dumping their contents like squadrons of firey angels falling into the abyss."

However, I found myself repeatedly being disoriented by a lack of spatial description, which in the end was the most condemning part of the writing for me. Take for instance this passage, about halfway through the novel,

Trace staggered forward, waving away the smoke in front of his eyes. From here, he saw a gaping hole that the tree had torn through the library's outter wall, and through it, the frozen surface of Odacer-Faustin's snow covered landscape. He could already hear the hiss of steam as the flaming architecture met the sub-zero air outside.

Help me...

Trace felt his sister's scream go burning throughout his entire body. This wasn't just an impression, some random emotional flash--he actually felt her pain as it wrenched through his right arm, throbbing into his shoulder and chest, blasting up to the roots of his teeth. Tears boiled up in his eyes and the wind whipped them away. His legs went numb and he stumbled, almost falling over in the snow. [empasis mine]

Now, at no point did it describe him leaving, and there was no snow inside the library. If it is unclear if he actually left, another paragraph later we get, "He took a step back to the burning hall of the library." Now, if this had been an isolated incidence, I probably would've stumbled a little then continued on my merry way, but alas, this happened consistantly throughout the novel.

While I can understand some scenes require a certain amount of confusion and disorientation, particularly when the section's narrator is undergoing just that, having it all over the place, and often where it doesn't even follow the from the narrative is just bad writing. It's an easy fix to add one sentace saying, "He stepped out of the library through the hole," or whatever may be appropriate.

My other complaint is that this is a book where zombies do battle with an entire Sith academy, and win. While the book does suggest these aren't creatures to be trifled with, I felt like the reaction of standing back and screaming wasn't what I expected from people who have the power to crush the decomposing zombies with their minds. That is where Death Troopers really had more credibility, as I expect a prison barge with minimal gaurds to go to hell in a heartbeat with zombies on board.

To be fair, the penultimate chapters actually did pique my interest and concern level with the remaining characters, and even had me sympathizing with a couple of the characters briefly. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.

In the end, I have to give this book a 2 out of 5, and reccomend that if you're in the mood for some SW horror, check out Death Troopers, which I enjoyed more (even though it wasn't my cup of tea.)

Until next time, May the Force be with you, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

Ask a Star Wars Geek 04

Welcome back! This week, I will be trying to make some improvements to my normal content. I will be hyperlinking a lot more, for ease of understanding when the use of Star Wars jargon is unavoidable, or where I think the reader may crave further reading, and I will be making context specific spoiler alerts from now on, i.e. instead of a post just headed [spoiler] (unhelpful if the question doesn't refer specifically to any given text), it may say, for instance, [Spoilers: Star Wars Episode IV, Star Wars Red Harvest] or whatever is applicable.

T.X. Watson asks:

"Why do we always assume that the Jedi are the good guys? Is it really that straight-forward?"

The reason people automatically assume the Jedi are good is a matter of presentation: Jedi are portrayed in the movies (and books) as the protagonists. Instant good guys. Of course, there is much more to it than that when it comes down to whether or not we as readers should just take such a claim at face value.

For instance, Luke becomes one of the biggest mass murderers after Grand Moff Tarkin when he blows up the first Death Star. About 1.7 million people died at that moment. You might even say it was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Now, that was one action of one man, albeit the one who would become the Grand Master of the New Jedi Order. Still, there are two levels of evaluation I think should be considered before casting a good or bad light on any group, so let's apply them here to the Jedi and the Sith.

Philosophy: The Jedi are a group of religious zealots[1. From a certain point of view.], as are the Sith. An oversimplification of both groups yields the following cores to their religious philosophies: the Jedi believe in selflessness, stoicism, and submitting their wills to the Force; the Sith believe in selfishness, passion, and submitting the Force to their will. This central difference immediately shows why the Jedi are portrayed as the protagonists: selflessness and calm logic are considered virtues in Western society, where we tell our children selfishness is wrong, and to not act on emotion and impulse.

Of course, capitalism is founded on notions of selfishness and greed. The most successful people in Western society are precisely those who are willing to put themselves above the rest and do what it takes to make it to the top. Exactly like the Sith.

That also plays into the good v. evil dichotomy: we most hate in others what we hate in ourselves. We were told to hate selfishness but must be selfish to survive and even thrive, so we look at others with extreme suspect if they are being selfish.

Now, the Force aspect is about power: the Jedi find power by giving up their own will to a greater one, the Sith find power by sheer domineering of will. But both are driven by power. Though the Jedi claim they do nothing for their selves, they still are acting in a way which allows them to access the greatest power available to them, exactly like the Sith.

And what do they do with that power?

Actions: The Jedi, with the fanaticism of any extremist organization, seek a religious genocide against any and all Sith. The Sith, like any splinter sect of a religion[2. The Sith as we know them were formed when a bunch of Jedi left the order and found the species of the Sith, and adopted their world view and taught them some of their ways as well.] equally seek the destruction of the Jedi. Members of both are caught in a 5000+ year war of extermination, with big gains made on both sides, time and time again.

The Sith are also known for being evil in their survival of the fittest training, where potential Sith are encouraged to constantly backstab (literally) their way up through the ranks to gain power and personal glory. Unlike those Jedi, who allow their students to die in the Trials....

Yeah. As I covered last week, the Jedi Trials were quite dangerous, and it was not unheard of that a padawan would die in them while trying to achieve knighthood. Of course, one of the trials involves a physical or spiritual maiming, the Trial of the Flesh, so there's that one too.

Of course, if you're a Padawan who isn't too keen to roll that die, if you kill a Sith you get to take a pass on the Trials. Even the Sith don't offer Jedi killing as a way to advance[3. Don't get me wrong, they love that. But just because you kill a Jedi isn't an instant promotion.]

I would suggest, however, the New Jedi Order series and the books that follow for the most ambiguity concerning the good v. evil dichotomy in relation to the Jedi, Sith, and the use of the Force in general.

Blake P. asks [SPOILERS: Star Wars Crosscurrent, Legacy of the Force Series, Fate of the Jedi Series]:

"Does time travel or travel to other dimensions exist in SW?"

If you had asked this a couple of years ago, the answer would've been a flat, "no." How lucky for you, the reader in the here and now.

Time travel does in fact exist and shows up in a couple of places in the Cannon. The more traditional sort of time travel happens in the novel Crosscurrent, in which a Sith battle ship tries to jump to hyperspace  with a broken hyperdrive, and doesn't enter into the hyperspatial dimension (I'll get to that), but travels at relativistic speed for a while, which, following the law's set by Einstein, causes time to dilate for the crew of the ship, so what was hours to them was over 5000 years to the rest of the galaxy.

That is the only instance of straight-up time warping I can point to. However, the Aing-Tii monks, a Force using sect affiliated with neither Sith nor Jedi, created a Force technique called "flow walking", which is essentially Force time travel. The person pushes their presence through time, able to travel back and view events which happened in the past.

Jacen Solo (at that point Darth Caedus) learns this technique, and uses it with Tahiri Veila while seducing her to the dark side. He has her go back in time and see her lost love. However, the danger to going back in time is that while you can't actually change anything, while flow walking you can "interact" with the past, and excessive meddling will cause people to remember something akin to a Force ghost of the flow walker at that time, which they will know is a strange thing to remember.

Flow walking to the future is either supposed to be extremely difficult or nigh impossible, though Jacen manages that one as well, which fixes a point in the future, much to Luke's distrubment.

As far as dimensions are concerned, this also happens here and there. The most common breach of dimension is hyperspace, which is kind of an alternate dimension which space ships jump through while they surpass light speed, and thereby allows them to avoid the aforementioned relativistic effects of such travel.

Furthermore, Luke discovers while retracing Jacen's path of Force sabbatical a way to enter a sort of extra dimension which is similar to flow walking, though keeps the user in the present. It is a state of becoming a Force ghost while alive and visiting certain locations. The technique is dangerous though, as it is very tempting to remain in that state while your body withers away to nothing.

Conclusion:

I love answering these sort of questions, which cause me to both rack my vast databanks of Star Wars lore and also to use my critical thinking and interpretation skills, so I thank you both for giving me a pleasurable writing experience (though so far I've loved writing every one of these.)

If all goes according to plan[4. Which it will, because I have a PhD in horribleness.], then tune in tomorrow for a special Ask a SW Geek, "How'd you like that book?" where I review the most recent SW fiction to pass under my nose. This week I've just finished Star Wars: Red Harvest, the second ever Star Wars horror novel, written by the author of both, Joe Schreiber.

See you tomorrow!

If you have a question in dire need of answering, send it along to starwarsgeek@txwatson.com, and I'll see what I can do.

May the Force be with you, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

**EDIT: PS - Next weekend I'll be at ReaderCon 23! I'll try to make sure it doesn't interrupt my normal scheduled content, and to any of you who might be there, may we bump into each other under pleasant circumstances!

Ask a Star Wars Geek 03

Welcome back! You ask it: I answer. This week...

Kristal T. asks:

"What are the Jedi trials to become a Jedi knight?"

I consider myself to be a veritable compendium of Star Wars knowledge. I've read almost all the novels. And this question actually stumped me.

You see, in all my reading, I've heard reference to the Jedi trials innumerable times. And yet I haven't read about any instance of a padawan undergoing the trials and becoming a knight. My immediate reaction, as always, was to check Wookieepedia, and indeed, the entire process is exhaustively detailed here.

Let me explain--No, wait, there is too much. Let me sum up: There are 5 trials: skill, courage, spirit, flesh, and insight. The trials themselves are actually extremely dangerous, and many padawans have died in the trials[1. Which is really messed up, when you think about it. Rather than save the life of the padawan (keeping in mind many Jedi could see into the future, even just briefly, giving them the knowledge of what is about to transpire), they allow them to die, thereby failing the test.]. The most messed up is probably the trial of the flesh, which involves "the padawan overcoming great physical pain, hardship, or loss, the test sometimes resulted in death or dismemberment." For being really noble, the Jedi were kind of cruel.

Now, much more well-known to me as a reader of the EU is the fact that the trials can be substituted with a particularly trying mission or several. Notable examples being Obi-Wan (for killing Darth Maul), Anakin Skywalker (for valor during the Clone Wars), Luke (for deciding he was a Jedi now), and the entire Myrkr strike team during the Yuuzhan Vong war (well, the survivors, anyway).

Interesting though that all is, it raising a bigger question for me: how had I read all these books and missed such great details as what the actual trials are? It could be my shoddy memory (which usually serves well enough when it comes to SW), but I think it just isn't really gone over in-depth in that medium. I think that the comics may handle some of it, to which I admit to having limited exposure. The whole thing rocks me to my core, though, if for no other reason than I read all these books, and all these references to the Jedi trials, and never actually asked, "What are they?"

For that, I have to thank you, Kristal. We all learned something on this one.

Nate S. asks: [Mild Spoilers]

"What are the eras of Star Wars history? What events predicated each change of era?"

There are six eras in the Star Wars cannon. Right now they are the Old Republic era, the Rise of the Empire era, the Rebellion era, the New Republic era, the New Jedi Order era, and the Legacy era. However, here is where I note that this is actually changed from when the eras were first declared. The demarcations of the eras, that is, when each starts and ends, changed in only one instance. Originally, the first three eras were the Sith era, the Prequel era (I, II, III), and the Classic era (IV, V, VI).

If I may angrily rant for a moment, there was no reason to change the names of those three eras. It isn't really more accurate to rename them, per se, and in fact, I think noting the prequel and classic eras by their affiliation with the movies only strengthens the sense of when each is. I am annoyed that they changed when there isn't really a reason for or against either way, as far as I can see, with the exception that changing them is mildly confusing, because you can pick up an older novel and see it is in the Sith era, and a newer novel which takes place in that giant span of time and see it is in the Old Republic era, and not realize they refer to the same stretch of time.

A geek of my magnitude wouldn't really be thrown off, but a new comer might, and that's reason enough in my mind to have never changed it to begin with. Oh, and the new time brackets totally conflict and create a grey area of double era, but I'll get to that.

To actually finish answering your question, the eras are denoted by time in universe, in years before or after the Battle of Yavin (Episode IV). The Old Republic era is 5000-33 BBY. This is the time period which encapsulates the Old Republic from it's inception to when Palpatine becomes Supreme Chancellor.

The Rise of the Empire era goes from 1000-0 BBY. This is from when Darth Bane tricks the Jedi into thinking the Sith extinct by taking out tens of thousands of both, to the events of Episode IV. It also creates a 967 year overlap between the eras, which didn't exist when it was the Sith and Prequel eras (Sith 5000-33, Prequel 33-0). That irks me all over.

Not to mention it actually makes little to no sense. The Empire didn't begin to rise with Darth Bane instigating the Rule of Two[2. "There can be only two Sith: Master and apprentice; one to embody the power, the other to crave it," Darth Bane, 1000 BBY.], though that did ultimately lead to Palpatine becoming Emperor. I'd argue it started when Darth Plagueis took on a force wielding serial killer/politician as an apprentice (AKA Palpatine), which happened in approximately 40 BBY. Also, it stops rising about 19 BBY when, you know, it's actually an Empire now. That is when the Rebellion started, in fact.

Not in 0 ABY, though the Rebellion era goes from then til 5 ABY, with the blowing up of the second Death Star, which marks its end and the beginning of the New Republic era... even though the New Republic won't exist as a recognized governing body by the galaxy at large until 7 ABY when Coruscant is taken by New Republic forces and the Empire is finally driven from its seat of power. But the New Republic era goes from 5 ABY til 25 ABY.

The rest of the eras haven't changed[3. Technically, the New Republic era never changed either, I was just following the logic of where eras should start and end and noticed it too didn't jive with in universe events very well.], and with good reason: they all make sense. The New Jedi Order era starts with the first book of the New Jedi Order series, and the invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong[4. The Yuuzhan Vong are a war-like species from outside the Star Wars galaxy. They do not register to Jedi in the Force.], 25 ABY. It goes til just after the end of the Yuuzhan Vong war, in 40 ABY, when the Legacy era begins with the Legacy of the Force series, which kicks off with the beginnings of a second civil war and the possible destruction of the New Republic. The legacy era has no defined end.

Ariel C. asks:

"What is your favorite Star Wars pick-up line?"

As if I have one favorite!

  • Wanna ride home? My car made the Kessel Run in 12 par secs.
  •  *waves hand* This is the guy you're looking for.
  •  If you're wondering if that's a light saber in my pocket... yes.
  •  Are you a Jedi? Because I think you just triggered the activation stud on my light saber from across the room.
  •  I'll Star your Wars.
  •  I suggest a new strategy: let me win.

Ok... I might have a favorite:

  •  Don't close the blast doors... ...to your heart.

 

Conclusion

And so another week comes to a close, another post for the archives. This week has proved that for all my reading, the Star Wars universe is vast, and to know everything is really, really, really, difficult. And so I'll continue in my efforts to know the answers, so you can ask away. I've also proved I'm probably not smooth with the ladies.

Ah well, I need questions to answer if I'm to keep on writing, so that's where you come in! Shoot me your pressing questions at starwarsgeek@txwatson.com, and your name (or userhandle) could be the next featured on my post :D

Until next week, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

Ask a Star Wars Geek 02

Hello again! I'm back to shed a little more light on all your pressing concerns. I didn't get as many questions this past week as I would've liked[1. Some would have been nice], but I didn't really expect them to come flooding it all at once. So, here are some more questions my friends have thrown my way.

T.X. Watson asks:

"How do you feel about midichlorians?"

I will refrain from writing a novel here, because midichlorians have to be one of my most ambivalent points in the entire SW Cannon. When I first learned of their existence, I was thrilled. It was one of the missing pieces needed to make SW more SF and less F[2. Star Wars, Speculative Fiction (more commonly known as Science Fiction), and Fantasy respectively]. It gave a specific way in which we could understand a biological connection to the Force (especially where lineages are concerned).

Then my rose-tinted glasses fell off when I saw the effect on the fans, i.e. that people now would argue that this person was actually the stronger Force user, because according to some chart, they have x number of midichlorians per cell, as opposed to y, et cetera ad nauseam. It was a sort of blatant misuse of information that I didn't expect from Star Wars fans. A fight between two people is based on more factors than a slightly stronger or weaker innate connection to the force.

I say "innate" because having a higher midichlorian count doesn't instantly make you Vader or Yoda. There is still training and understanding that need to be achieved so that the potential can be realized[3. I will save strongest/best force users for when the question comes up].

Midichlorians were originally not meant to have as much import as the fandom gave them, which is really Lucas' failing, as even throw away lines in the Star Wars movies are read as all important. It was a kind of plot device to get Anakin noticed as special and taken off Tatooine which ultimately backfired in a lot of the EU[4. Expanded Universe], because there is so much more to be taken into account. In fact, many writers kind of avoid them all together.

I think that they are a cool device, and make for interesting tib-bits of information, particularly where living beings and their connections to the Force are concerned, in a scientific sense, but they can be used to great detriment by the fans, which leaves me a little sad sometimes.

Kristal T. asks:

"Why is it that in Star Wars Episode IV the Rebel ships have red lasers and Imperial ships have green ones? Isn't that backwards? Red equals bad, and green is good!"

I do not know of an official answer to this question. In universe[5. Meaning contextually in a story, movie, game, etc.], it never comes up. This leaves a fan like me to immediately jump to science. As you may know, the Empire isn't exactly huge on the whole, "people are valuable" front. In fact, TIE fighters don't have shields, or even any armor to speak of, because it would make them too expensive. This is why in the movies Luke and friends can one shot kill a TIE without batting an eyelash, while the TIE's hammer away against the shields of the good guys.

While it doesn't seem very fiscally responsible to wantonly allow the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of TIE pilots (who would have had to have received military training and flight training--collectively millions of hours of it), the idea is that if you throw enough crap at the enemy all at once, they will be overwhelmed and die of their own accord... or something like that.

The Rebels care a little more about their pilots, so they get to have shields, giving them a huge kill/death ratio.

What does this have to do with lasers?

EVERYTHING.

You see, red (the color of the Rebel lasers) is lower on the spectrum than green, meaning that it has a lower energy cost associated with generating it. The lower energy cost would also mean lower damage. However, when you've got shields sucking up your energy, sustaining the higher output could quickly drain the battery life of the ship. The Imps on the other hand have no shields to worry about, so their defense becomes their offense: stronger lasers (which also help to hammer down those shields) and delivered in superior numbers.

Essentially, an Imperial engineer's dream would be a huge, powerful gun mounted on a really fast engine, with a pilot in underclothes riding atop it and steering by flapping his arms. Cheap and damaging, with the lowest cost possible. And as the Empire conscripts if it doesn't get enough voluntary recruits, they don't want for warm bodies.

Where this theory is the roughest I actually covered in my previous post, about how in SW "lasers" are ionized gas, so the color could theoretically be a reaction there and slightly incidental, though I believe the higher energy cost would still apply.

Conclusion

I hope that I have shed a little more light on a galaxy far, far away for you all this week. Drop me your questions at starwarsgeek@txwatson.com, and see if my knowledge can sate your curiosity.

May the Force be with you, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

Ask a Star Wars Geek 01

Greetings, all. This is the Star Wars Geek, logging on to answer any nerdy, Star Wars-y questions you may have. This will be my first post of many, but before I get to the Q's and A's, I think some credentials are in order: I love Star Wars. I'm a geek. If that's not enough, I've read over 130 Star Wars novels. I've played many of the Star Wars video games[1. Though I admit to not having played KotoR] and even the Star Wars RPG. I've read a couple of the comics and maybe a dozen novellas. I own every Star Wars book I've ever read. Of course, I have seen all the movies many times.

So, I know a lot about Star Wars, and it seems that people often come to me with their Star Wars related questions, as I usually have the answers.

This is where you, the reader, come in. Send me your questions, so that I can answer them for you. This week, I was lucky enough to get some primer questions from my friends. Next week, I hope to hear from you.

T.X. Watson asks:

What about the books do you think is most relevant to casual fans?

Well, I guess this depends slightly, based on the definition of "casual." For the sort of fans who have seen and enjoyed the movies, and maybe played a game or two: the books offer you a chance to enjoy reading a great book[2. Something I assume the people reading this would want to do as a matter of course] and also the chance to hear about these characters you know from one context thrown into all sorts of other ones. These books are written by a number of authors who you may know from elsewhere, from Timothy Zahn, to Michael A. Stackpole, to R.A. Salvatore, and more. They offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in a fully fleshed out world of adventure and drama, and at the rate new books are being written, an almost endless supply of reading.

To my mind, there isn't overmuch for a "very casual" fan, if you will. The sort of person who just likes the movies and thinks they are a fun way to spend an afternoon. I will say that if there is any sort of lingering curiosity over what happens to the various characters, it's all there. And if going through whole novels to find out is too much for you, then I suggest you check out Wookieepedia and search which ever character you want to know about. I know it's is one of my favorite places on the internet.

Ariel C. asks:

What is the science behind laser shots instead of continuous lasers? And just what is Yoda?

Ah, science and Star Wars! When they are in the same room at the same time I "squee," to use the vernacular. Many people understand that a laser is a beam of light, and as such A) you can't see it unless it's in a dusty room or the like, and B) it travels at the speed of light. In the movies, and reinforced in the other various media in which the Star Wars stories are told, lasers appear as discrete streaks which travel remarkably slowly.

This is because "lasers" in Star Wars are actually a misnomer. They are jets of ionized Tibanna gas, which is mined from atmospheres in places like Bespin. Lightsabers actually are lasers, and in their case they are light which is trapped in magnetic fields generated by the lightsabers themselves, aided by the crystals in the lightsaber which perfectly focus the light and magnetic fields by attunement with the Force. But that is an explanation for another day.

As to Yoda, his species is specifically not mentioned anywhere in the Star Wars cannon. This is at George Lucas' behest, though I'm not really sure why. He probably wants to keep an ace in the hole if he really messes something up with the fans, I think. At any rate, there is another of Yoda's species, Yaddle, who was on the Jedi Council as of the end of the Republic. Yaddle appears briefly on screen in Episode I.

[SPOILER] Nate S. asks:

[Why] the ████ did Chewbacca have to die?

For those of you who aren't into the EU[3. The Expanded Universe], but would like to be, this is one spoiler that I'm not too sorry about giving away, because it was in a book released in 1999, and really, it's sort of common knowledge among the more devoted fans. Chewbacca dies in Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, the first novel of the New Jedi Order.

There was much discussion of this decision before it was made. Up to this point, no major character from any of the movies had ever died. Even the minor characters had a sort of aura of invincibility around them. And that was bad for the stories themselves. There was never a moment of anxiety when you knew Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie would always pull through. Michael A. Stackpole had been writing the X-Wing series for a few years at that point, a series in which Stackpole used only minor characters and characters of his own invention which he could kill, and thereby create tension in the reader. To this day, the X-Wing series remains one of my favorites.

Stackpole showed it worked. Lucas gave the ok for one of the characters to die. This is speculation, but I think it was Chewie pretty much because he was the least important of the big-four. Luke needed to run the order, and Han and Leia needed to exist as parents (They have kids, another spoiler I'm not too worried to say). Those elements generated the most drama. Chewie was the plucky side-kick at best, and was still one of the icons of the series. So he got the ax. It was well written, and one of the more poignant deaths of the Cannon. All characters must die eventually, especially when series go on over the course of thousands of years. If he had to go, I'm glad he went the way he did.

Conclusion

So, those are the questions for the week, send me yours at starwarsgeek@txwatson.com, and I'll answer as many as I can in due time. I'll be back next Saturday, and every Saturday, unless I am eaten by a flock of moose or my hands are hacked off at the wrists by enraged soccer fans.

Until next time,

-Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

Blog announcement: New blogger, Star Wars Q&A

My friend Michael DiTommaso, fellow writer and dedicated Star Wars geek, is joining the blog for a regular Saturday column, "Ask A Star Wars Geek." The first installment consists of questions from me and some of his friends, but he'd love to get reader questions to answer.  You can send in questions at:

starwarsgeek@txwatson.com

The aforementioned first installment will be posted later today.