Face To Face With The Masters
Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions. Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+
Continuing from Part 2....
Perhaps a single narrative voice (which is, of course, a fictional character in its own right) actually enables the author to define the nuances of the story more sharply?
I don't know – do you?
I don’t know if that’s true. I’ll hide day and night behind multiple narrative points of view. Right now I’m trying to sell a novella that’s told from at least three different first-person perspectives, in the vein of Rashomon or As I Lay Dying. In fact, I’d say that in my character studies, say “The Imperial Grand Admirals” or “The Dark Forces Saga,” my narratives are often first-person points of view masquerading as third-person POVs. That is, the so-called objectivity of documentary-style storytelling is far, far from what I intend, though making a reader feel that a particular point of view definitively is “the truth” is my intention. My desire is to make the reader identify with the character in question, even when that character is a villain. Here I’m especially thinking about the Dark Jedi Sariss and Grand Admiral Osvald Teshik—though with a storyarc of redemption, Teshik may be my one truly good Imperial. I believe my most effective rendering of a true villain in this manner has been General Grievous.
However, as each character sketch is often a self-contained story within a project that has multiple character studies, I can see how a single narrative voice might seem to govern my Star Wars work, or at least a particular project. But this is a deception. You mentioned Tam Azur-Jamin, the Star Wars character who is the in-universe “writer” of the essay “Droids, Technology and the Force: A Clash of Phenomena.” In this essay, Tam introduces the ancient philosopher Plaristes as a great thinker, then tears him down with one sentence. More significantly, at one point Tam champions his cyborg father (MIA at this point in the Star Wars timeline) as a model of Jedi behavior despite a historical tendency among cyborgs to turn to the dark side—like Darth Vader. It’s a touchingly subtle defense of his presumed-dead pops. Indeed, if we were to use poor Tam’s essay as a window for psychoanalysis, Tam’s entire motive for writing this piece seems to be simply to make this sneaky off-hand defense of his father.
But in “The Dark Forces Saga,” we find Tam’s father not only alive, but he’s also turned to the dark side! How about it Tam? Where are your vaunted objectivity and research skills now?
Because omniscience eludes us, we will all eventually be compromised in some form. The same goes for the single-narrative voice. So I figure, why not infuse contradiction into the writing? It’s like playing chess against yourself.
Taking a look at that answer and the one that preceded it, I should point out to the unwary reader that they flatly contradict each other. I might ask if the contradiction is internal, or artificial – though I’d then have to caution the reader that your answer might be interesting rather than accurate....
Instead, though, taking a look at heroes, villains and those in-between: in terms of appealing to the reader, is there really a line between Vergere, Trioculus and Yoda... and can we link this to that tricky question of whether a story is a success or a failure (or do I mean ‘popular’ against ‘hermetic’)?
I’m not sure what the specific contradiction is in my last answer, though I’ll grant that it could certainly seem that there’s one; starting from different presumptions is often the cause for the abuse of the language of absolutes: “Only,” “Always,” “Never,” “Paradox,” “Contradiction.” I’ll warn the unwary reader too that these are also words dangerous to take literally, because strictly speaking, they are hermetic, that is, air-tight. That said, all we have is language. But if we remember both these things, then the non-sequitur can be a very useful teaching tool. The recipe is simple: take two (seemingly) contradictory or mutually exclusive concepts, say the special theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, and insist on their coexistence. What do you get? Vergere knows this concoction well.
Is there a line between Vergere (I assume you mean as depicted in New Jedi Order: Traitor), Trioculus, and Yoda? I take this question to be asking whether these characters are all really just two (three?) sides of the same coin. Warily, I say yes. The villain Trioculus doesn’t compare easily to the Jedi Yoda and Vergere, but insofar as he is a very strong-willed character, there is a strong similarity, and the aura of power self-confidence produces is attractive to others despite whether the possessor of said power is real or fictional. Or even whether the confidence is real or fictional. Trioculus, I think, is a character with a secret inferiority complex. I enjoyed writing him for the “Underworld Appendix.”
On the other hand, certainly Yoda is Socrates to Vergere’s Nietzsche, which is to say, Vergere’s just a little more blatant in her wisdom than Yoda. Vergere’s is a violent intellect, interested in subversion and smashing dogma without an interest in the social consequences, only those to the individual … perhaps because, rightly, she presumes few will follow her into the heart of hell. Yoda’s, by contrast, is a passive intellect; he knows everything Vergere knows, but he’s just not interested in the role of subversion—someone else (Vergere, apparently) will handle that. Vergere is a teacher, and Yoda is a mentor. The difference is subtle, but significant. The teacher’s authority is imposed, and the student is expected to defer. On the other hand, the mentor’s authority is derived from the pupil’s non-coercive submission. Vergere is a saleswoman: the outcome matters. Yoda is a sage: the outcome is inevitable. Both believe each of these statements is true, but they’re each predisposed toward her and his individual emphases.
In this sense, perhaps we can say something about what makes for a successful or popular story. I’ll venture this: I think more people get where Yoda’s coming from than where Vergere’s coming from, and popularity will be dispensed accordingly.
Here’s a useful example: the movie Grindhouse, by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, was a box office flub. Yet, this was an incredibly entertaining film, in my opinion, if you understand or are aware of the premises on which it was built, chiefly as an homage to 70s horror and exploitation films. I think most people didn’t understand that, just as I didn’t understand the intentional B-movie in-jokes when watching Tarantino and Rodriguez’ first horror collaboration, From Dusk Till Dawn. The more specialized a story gets, the more context that’s necessary to appreciate that story—for an individual to deem it “successful.” So we can see that any self-respecting storyteller can take terms such as “successful” and “popular” only so seriously. There is only the intention and the reaction from the intended audience, those who are expected to “get it.”
Let’s say, I was Yoda. In that case, I would say about Grindhouse, “For nine hundred years have I watched movies. I really don’t care if you think it’s bad, because I know what’s good.” Implicit in that is Yoda’s acceptance of the dissenter’s right to dissent. Just don’t try to force Yoda to agree with you. On the other hand, if I was Vergere, I would say, “This is a great movie, and you’re a buffoon for not thinking so. Look, let me show you why it’s good, or at least why you’re stupid….” There’s an intellectual arrogance about Vergere that is unattractive, which I think is why many fans didn’t take to her. She’s a bully. I’ve had professors that were like that, and on separate occasions my powers of comprehension had the privilege of being the object of their derision and admiration. In both instances, I somewhat pity them, but in the latter case, we can also be friends—a happy coincidence. So again, the reception of the information and therefore judgment as to the success of its communication is also dependent on the dispositions of the recipient. Yoda is for the masses. Vergere is a niche market.
I don’t think Trioculus would like Grindhouse. A little too close to home for Mr. Evil Mutant.
Interesting… you make both Vergere and Yoda sound awfully like fanboys of the Force there. Almost as if there’s some sort of (hermetic?) subtext to what you’re saying?
I’m not totally sure that I agree, either. I get the (purely subjective) sense that more people disagree with Jacen than with Vergere... just as I know a lot of people who’ll fast-forward through the fortune-cookie scenes in The Empire Strikes Back.
I also wonder if, in fact, Yoda’s approach makes him the more manipulative of the pair of them; or if, indeed, Vergere is only seeming to do what Yoda actually does, as a form of savage commentary on his behaviour and duplicity.
Well, I didn’t say people disagreed with Vergere’s philosophy. It’s her attitude. Jacen, as he has been portrayed in Legacy of the Force, is easy to disagree with, however, because he has adopted a corrupt version of Vergere’s philosophy. He has forgotten the lesson of empathy, and thus become a villain. Jacen’s development in that series has been interesting, though I would’ve appreciated seeing him instead become the man he seemed poised to become after the events of Traitor. But that version of Jacen, just as that version of Vergere, was a characterization owed to a particular kind of experience on the part of that novel’s author and a particular attitude toward life. As intelligent a writer as Walter Jon Williams is, and he’s clearly quite smart, his turn at Vergere in Destiny’s Way seemed a caricature of her character in Traitor, didn’t it? She speaks the language, but the syntax is all wrong, if you get my meaning. It’s like when you see a Star Wars author write Yoda dialogue that just doesn’t sound right. This isn’t Williams’ fault, of course. Author Matthew Stover’s possession of Vergere was so singular, it became impossible to imitate.
I would argue Stover had the same effect on Jacen’s character. But at this point, we run into the same problem that plagues Obi-Wan after Revenge of the Sith, or Luke after Return of the Jedi: the characters are archetypally complete, so to speak, or we feel they inevitably will be, and can no longer be interesting in a traditional sense. The only interesting turns left for them are to die or turn to evil. Actually, they can also become parents, but most of the time, that’s a little too sitcom-like. Lucasfilm chose to turn Jacen to evil.
Okay. I’m going to have to interject there, Abel.
My immediate reaction here was to think of ‘The Man With No Name’, Clint Eastwood’s iconic cowboy – a figure who simply rides into town and... chooses and acts, I guess. The films in which he appears can be viewed in a sequence, but each is also capable of standing alone. Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi flicks have developed as a (post-)modern, Mexican take on the same theme, and I can see Matt Stover’s non-Star Wars ‘Acts of Caine’ books developing in the same way.
In short, I’d argue that Traitor actually made Jacen into a character who doesn’t need a continuing story arc, a man defined more by a language of gesture and implicit subtext—by his actions, I suppose you could say. He has a past, whether it’s alluded to or not, but he doesn’t need much more than that.
Similarly, if we look at some other mythic characters, we find a similar scenario – King Arthur’s knights, Charlemagne’s paladins, even some of the more developed Classical heroes; whether manhandled into continuity or developed as part of it, they have an infinite potential for storytelling, not a lack of options.
So: I’d put it to you that the problem with Jacen is more of a clash of narrative concepts, not anything that was inherent in the character after Traitor... except, perhaps the very fact that he’s been liberated from the sort of character arc that can be summarized straightforwardly on an A4 sheet.
The answer, along with the conclusion of the interview, can be found in Part 4. Also, you can visit Abel’s website and his StarWars.com VIP blog.