Today, picking up on a theme that I noticed in the interview, we’re bringing you the first section of a two-part essay, exploring the idea of heroes and villains in Abel’s Star Wars writing:
Hero and Villain: Part I—Hero
One thing that Abel G. Peña’s work has taught us is the importance of dualities in the Star Wars mythos: technology and the Force, truth and fiction, continuity and retcon. He’s also shown that these are often not true opposites, but rather conjunctions creating a powerful synergy.
With that in mind, it seemed appropriate to turn to the theme of heroes and villains in his writing—which, today, means that we’re focusing on the heroes.
At one point in the interview, Abel spoke out against the modern tendency to replace the clear-cut hero with the compromised anti-hero. He also warned that any author will, inevitably, insert aspects of their own character in their protagonists.
But when it comes to the personal heroes he identifies within the Star Wars world, one finds some interesting, choices: quixotic, perhaps paradoxical. Building off the identification of author and protagonist, he detects a heroic quality in two of the characters he developed: Dark Jedi berserker Jeng Droga and cyborg Imperial commander Osvald Teshik.
Eventually, as the conversation sharpens to a point, he identifies the Jacen Solo who emerged from Matt Stover’s Traitor as “my hero”.
To an extent, of course, these statements could be deliberately misleading, or simply tongue-in-cheek. However, I think we can perhaps get a sense of the Peña definition of heroism here—and, not surprisingly, I think it’s an interesting one.
Ultimately, all four of these characters are, in very different ways, able to make a decisive decision that overcomes the apparent dualities of life, and in so doing, to find a clarity and confidence that—even if it kills them—stands as an existentialist and aesthetic statement of their heroic qualities.
This is seen most clearly in Jacen Solo in Traitor, urged by Vergere to abandon his hesitation; to “choose, and act”. Jacen’s decisiveness is an unstoppable strength, tempered by self-knowledge and a sense of justice and mercy, but born from a transcendent recognition that he isn’t bound by the limits that other people tried to impose on him and on the Galaxy—perhaps literally, an ability to redefine reality itself.
Not even his subsequent story-arc can take that away from him....
Jeng Droga, in contrast, is a Dark Jedi, a creature of Palpatine. His life hardly seems heroic—in fact, he played a pivotal role in unleashing the monstrosity of the Dark Empire; but his loyalty, however misguided, seems to have been pure and honest—and he died in a state of rapturous surrender to chaos and combat. Within his own context, it’s a hero’s death, an attainment of Grail-like clarity: and it’s also a dramatic, challenging counterpoint to the actions of Jacen and Ganner Rhysode in Traitor.
Osvald Teshik died laughing.
Betrayed and broken by the Empire that he served so well, he fought on at the Battle of Endor without flinching, until honour and strength was spent, and all he could do was save the lives of his subordinates. Taken prisoner by the victorious Rebels, he dragged his heels in captivity for several years, before being hauled up before a show-trial court, and shot.
Like Jacen Solo and Jeng Droga, Teshik combines the two fundamental aspects of heroism: loyalty to an ideal amid the snares and paradoxes of a compromised existence; and a clarity of vision at the culmination of his journey. The fact that he had to go palpably insane to do so doesn’t get in the way of that—for a master strategist, that was surely a tactical gambit, a worthwhile sacrifice to expose the unsettling paradoxes and hypocrisy of the New Republic, and undermine the conventional narratives of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in Star Wars.
So how does Kyle Katarn fit in? As Abel himself insinuates, he’s the young hero who’s not yet developed psychological self-reflection. He just picks up the nearest weapon, and cuts a swathe through the legions of stormtroopers facing him. He doesn’t need a journey like the others, or even a real personality: he already knows just what to do.
This idea of the hero is, I think, strengthened if we turn to some of the less obviously ‘heroic’ characters that Abel has dealt with: Tam Azur-Jamin, the subtly-characterized protagonist of the subtext narrative binding Droids, Technology and the Force together, who I discussed a little yesterday; and Havet Storm, hero of the cult classic Lost Jedi chose-your-own-adventure series, who he identified in a throwaway line as the first victim of the Dark Jedi Desann.
At first sight, neither of these characters seems particularly heroic: one is a lost, bereaved young man whose schoolwork reveals the inadequacy of pastoral care at the Jedi Academy; the other is just a casualty. But if we look a little closer, I think we can see something that should be familiar by now.
Havet Storm’s fate is determined by his ability to make a heroic choice, while Tam is at least searching, however blindly, for an answer to satisfy his instinctive sense of truth and clarity. That, in itself, indicates his innate potential for heroism.
It doesn’t matter if neither of them is a great hero in the eyes of the Galaxy. Both of them have a focus, a vision and purpose, which evokes Luke Skywalker’s clear-eyed gaze on Tatooine at the start of Star Wars.
So, we return to where we started: the idea that a true hero isn’t compromised, isn’t an anti-hero. I might counter that not everyone needs to be a hero: but has Abel ever said he disagrees? All in all, I find it hard to dispute the definition of a concept that is here denoted by the name of ‘heroism’.
That doesn’t mean they might not all just be dangerous madmen, though.
Tomorrow, in Part 2, we turn to look at Abel’s portrayal of villains.