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

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 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