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A graphic novel by Tom Veitch, Kevin J. Anderson (1996, Dark Horse Comics)
Book 5 of Tales of the Jedi
3997 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Two Jedi, one seeking to learn about the Dark Side, and one striving to defeat it from within, become encompassed by its power.



4 stars

Read August 25th, 2002 for the second time  
    Superb storytelling, a great story, and incredible artwork make this the best Tale of the Jedi so far. The only real concerns that I have include the amount of magic being used, and the apparent superior power of the dark side.

Normally I would leave the artwork for last. But here, the art was part of what made this book so enjoyable, at least until the artist was changed in the last part (or two). No section of the frame was left unused. Everything had something happening. There was so much detail, not only in the main events, but in the background, that I was awed! Not only that, but the artists used the blurring effect that I enjoy so much. Normally, page formatting is underwhelming, being divided into squares or horizontally into rectangles. But in this case, so many pages were framed by the action. Sometimes it would be split by a V, with three triangular frames on a page, or the spooky scene with Ulic mourning his fallen master side-by-side with Exar Kun falling to the dark side. This is the best artwork I've seen in a very long time, surpassed only possibly and barely by the X-Wing comic Mandatory Retirement. Unfortunately, most of that was lost when the artist was switched near the end.

As for story, I was supremely impressed by the slow buildup of the fall to the dark side of these two students. It was amazing to see them follow such different paths and end up in the same place. Each thinks they can hold onto the light while doing what they are doing, that they can turn back any time from the path they have chosen -or have pretended to choose. (It's a little like a teen smoker!)  But each action, each time they use the dark side of the Force, they are drawn farther in. The Jedi Masters make an interesting observation about Ulic's path -the path of redemption is not back from the dark side, but through it. That's very powerful, and exudes meaning on a higher plane. It means that the natural order of things must play through, and if the Force wills it, Ulic will come back to the light, but it will not be along the same path from which he fell.

Ulic's path is sparked by a crisis foreshadowed in The Freedon Nadd Uprising. Aleema and Satal have returned to the Empress Teta system with the Sith artifacts and teachings they found on Onderon and Coruscant, calling themselves the Krath. They quickly and effectively take over government of those seven planets, and want more. They create carbonite sculptures out of their parents and the other rulers -the beginning of a new fashion that will continue for millennia?!

Because they learned their "magic" from Freedon Nadd, Master Arca feels it is his responsibility to fix the situation. He sends Nomi Sunrider and Ulic Qel-Droma to lead an attack force to restore the proper government. Nomi is well versed in the Jedi Battle Meditation, which allows her to counter Aleema's illusions. But somehow the battle goes very badly for the Republic and Jedi task force, and they are forced to withdraw. How small suicide ships could penetrate a cruiser's hull is beyond me. This would only work if the shields were down, like on the Star Destroyer in Return of the Jedi.

Regardless, the Jedi retreat and call a gathering in the Deneba system. At this gathering, the Jedi discuss what they must do, but they are attacked by the Krath again, in what is likely supposed to be unexpected retaliation for the attack on the Empress Teta system. The ambush only partially succeeds, and the only Jedi that we know who is killed is Master Arca -a dreadful loss!

And so, against the advice of the Jedi Masters (but with their support, anyway), Ulic decides to infiltrate the Krath and defeat the Dark Side from within. The Masters know what will happen to Ulic. Odan Urr, who was alive during the Fall of the Sith Empire a thousand years ago and formed the Ossus Library (before me!), shows Ulic the folly of trying to infiltrate the dark side. But since he is determined to go, they offer him the Force and support his decision. They never oppose him, letting the Force move in its mysterious ways. However, they know the result.

I don't like the way the authors use such blunt foreshadowing as the narration that "...Nomi will see Ulic again only very changed...", "little does he know, that...", and so on. We can see that for ourselves later- as we indeed do. We don't need to feel the artificial terror.

The Krath see through Ulic's disguise right away, and inject him with a Sith poison, one which will concentrate his anger, and help him on the path to the dark side. I don't think this was necessary, either. He was well on his way to the dark side without the poison. Nomi and Cay Qel-Droma follow him and try to rescue him, but not willing to reveal himself as a spy, he sends Nomi to the dungeons, still hoping she could escape on her own. Indeed she does, but she feels very betrayed. The person she had grown close to, who she started to allow to love her, appears to be gone. She can't even feel him through the Force anymore -because his energy has turned dark. Nomi and Cay leave him with the Krath, even as he kills Satal and continues down the slippery slope of the Dark Side.

Yet another assault, this time by several Jedi and some warbeasts from Onderon, fails, as Ulic begins to wield the dark side, and Nomi can see that the person she loved is now gone for good. Even as they have him in bonds, she orders him released, as his path must be his own, not forced upon him. Ulic and Aleema have grown close, and she congratulates him, having known all along that he was a spy, but it appears that she is drawing him to her side. What kind of lingerie was she wearing during the last encounter? She went from sensible girl with the original artist, to a sex-beast typical in fantasy comics with the new artist. No thanks.

Exar Kun's path, however, starts out as curiosity, not revenge. It is not a path that we would normally associate with the dark side of the Force. He accesses his master's holocron without permission (the same one that Luke uses in Jedi Search). He then lies to gain access to Onderon; thankfully, Master Arca sees through him. But he still makes his way to the tomb of Freedon Nadd, accessing scrolls that tell him of ancient Korriban, home of the Sith back in the Golden Age of the Sith, guided by Freedon Nadd's spirit.  There, Kun is nearly killed, and can only save himself by using the Dark Side and accepting its destiny for him. His access to the light side of the Force is blocked, simply because he's started down the dark path.

I really don't understand this, because the two sides are not mutually exclusive. There should really be a neutral Force, too, as in the magic of Dragonlance. Both sides of the Force have detection skills, and both can levitate and throw things. There is no Light throw and Dark throw, or Dark speed and Light speed. Force users, whether light or dark, should be able to call their lightsabers to them regardless.

In any case, each time Kun uses the dark side, it comes easier to him. He is guided by Nadd to Yavin IV, where he discovers the remains of Naga Sadow's Massassi warriors and Sith alchemy. He is attacked and captured, but during a sacrifice, he taps into a Sith amulet and destroys everything that Sadow created at the end (and after) The Fall of the Sith Empire. He even uses the Dark Side to destroy the spirit of Freedon Nadd. This is something that Master Arca should have done in the last book.

After instructing the Massassi to create more temples to focus the Dark Side, Kun makes his way to the Empress Teta system, to destroy his rivals there. He and Ulic fight, but are interrupted as the Sith amulets they wear come together, and they are contacted by the spirits of the past Sith lords. These spirits declare Kun the Dark Lord of the Sith, and Ulic as his apprentice.

And that is where we are left off, waiting for the next book, The Sith War.

There are so many good things about this book, from the art, to the crisp dialog, the detail, and even the mention of past conflicts that we have yet to see in any narrative form, like the droid rebellion that Arca experienced on Coruscant. The fights are well choreographed, and have snappy dialog of their own. And there is nothing that is questionable in the Star Wars universe, because the story is so tightly woven and based in that lore.

However, I have three concerns regarding the Sith and their ways. The first deals with the magic that Aleema uses. Is it really necessary? I don't think so. And it does detract from this excellent story (preventing top marks, in my opinion). Some people think of Star Wars as a fantasy, but this is going too far into that realm. She could easily use the Force to convince the soldiers that their weapons were snakes, and so on. But to sew their old tutor's mouth closed? I just think it could have been done without magic.

The second concern is with the spirits. They are everywhere! Could Ben have given Luke power in his spirit form in The Empire Strikes Back? I don't think so. Again, this borders on true fantasy, where a portal into the underworld has been opened. Nadd's spirit has incredible mobility and power, considering that he's simply a spirit. As far as I'm concerned, the spirits of Force-users should have only the ability to communicate -nothing else! And given what we learned in Attack of the Clones (the novelzation), that even Yoda didn't know about the spectral world, one wonders exactly how much the Jedi have lost in four thousand years. Nomi also asks Ulic at one point why Arca has not appeared to him -because Ulic turned to the dark side. But does that mean Arca has offered his guidance to her or Cay?

My third concern is with the power of the Dark Side. Yoda said that it is not more powerful, but from almost all of the comics, we are led to believe that Yoda was wrong, or that he lied. The Sith seem to have incredible power. But I wonder if the dark power comes in the form of aggression, while the power of a Jedi comes in other forms, like meditation. Both can solve problems, but one is much more subtle, and less obvious. The advantage that the Light side has is that the Dark side will always turn in on itself. The problem is in how long that takes to happen, and how many people will suffer because of it.

I am convinced that Exar Kun could have returned to the Light even after Korriban, just by using the time of his journey to Yavin IV in meditation. But being without guidance, he was impatient, and he actually thought he could control his rage. By the time he arrives on Yavin IV, he doesn't have the strength to control himself, and succumbs. And once he sees the power that the amulets can concentrate, he is no longer interested in the light side of the Force!

And once again, I must advocate that a little anger does not turn one to the Dark Side of the Force. Watch Obi-Wan at the end of The Phantom Menace. There was hatred and anger there. As long as it is reigned in, and good judgment used, and meditated afterwards to cool his thoughts, the user could maintain the light. Think of hatred and anger as turning towards the dark path, but not actually taking it. Using that anger in the wrong way would be setting a step down the path. There is a distinct difference.

Just the fact that this book has sparked such thought and speculation shows that it was terrific. Aside from the few concerns I have, which seem to be present in all of the comics, but none of the novels, this book really deserves a top score. Wonderfully illustrated, with a good story and  superb storytelling, this is one of the best Star Wars tales.



4 stars

Also read March 2nd to 6th, 1997  
    This is really the first graphic novel that I can say I truly loved.  The story was great, and well planned out, as well as very believable.  The only thing I am uncomfortable with is the absolute power of the dark side.  I don't think the dark side can actually block the light side.  But the characters were all believable, and well thought-out.  Incredible!  

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