Friday, April 13, 2007

Jacen Solo & the Hero's Journey

To some Jacen Solo is a hero. To some a villain. Regardless, he is a complex, dynamic and ultimately human character with his own strengths and weaknesses; triumphs and failures. Ultimately though, he fails to fit the mold of a Star Wars hero - he lacks the dynamics of the Hero's Journey which Luke and his little brother Anakin went on. Or does he?

It should be no secret by now that Jacen has fallen to the Dark Side. He went down that dark path, skipping and whistling, dragging his young cousin along for the ride. All the readers know it, and the only people who don't are Ben Skywalker and Mr. ThereIsNoDarkSide himself, Jacen. The trap the Sith created for Jacen was daring and well thought out. Lumiya is a master manipulator - twisting Jacen and his ideals the entire, broad avenue which he travels while on his way towards his inevitable fall. She weaves Jacen's own back-story, everything from his initial training at the hands of the Shadow Academy to his time under Vergere's tutelage, into a convincing argument for Jacen being a Sith. It almost seems pre-ordained.

Oh wait, Star Wars is built using a plot by committee system these days, isn't it...

Anyways, in terms of the narrative, Jacen's fall is the end result of the (half?) truths which Lumiya tells him. That's not a surprise.

What is a surprise is how literally the plotting committee has taken the idea that no one thinks they are a villain.

We have a Jacen who recognizes that he is no longer a happy-go-lucky Jedi, who runs around collecting animals with this huge empathy thing going on, a Jacen who recognizes his overt use of the Dark Side of the Force (or uses his emotion to power his Force usage for all you Potentium folk out there). Ultimately, we have a Jacen who believes that he is doing the right thing for the galaxy. He is a hero, in his own mind at least.

After his subsequent torture and mental breakdown at the hands of an Old Republic Jedi, his fall, and the events leading up to it, have been a comedy of errors - one involving his family of all people. He makes these choices to save people, people who ultimately would not want him to make the choices he has - even at the cost of their own lives. The first step on his journey is all of the NJO. The first half of which he spends brooding and whining about aggression and negative emotions (at least while he's not picking a fight with his little brother as a way to work out their philosophical arguments). This section of his life is topped by his decision to stop using the Force. A decision made in the heat of the moment - and broken just as easily when his mother was placed in danger. Then his wishy-washy attitude and demeanor means that rather than taking out Tsavong Lah, he merely wounds him, which sets into motion a chain of events that leads to the bounty on the Jedi, Tahiri's shaping and ultimately the voxyn and the events at Myrkr in general. After his brainwashing... err... training at the tender mercies of Vergere, Jacen happily fights his way through the rest of the NJO and at the end, goes off doing his best Palpatine impression in an effort to learn all the ways of the Force that he can get his grubby little paws on.

Fast forward a decade (thanks for that Del Rey), and we have Jacen having a chat with Lumiya. It is this scene that we get to see Jacen's first, truly despicable act.

His actions in the Dark Nest Trilogy could be excused, provided you drank your way through those books, but the death of Nelani Dinn is the first thing that we see in the EU which shows just how far he has already fallen. What happens is that Jacen looks into the future - and sees that if she lives, he kills Luke.

One would think that after his five years of journeying to the far reaches of the galaxy learning about the Force from anyone and everyone, that someone, somewhere, would have told him that little tidbit of truth concerning the future, and Force visions. You know the one, and if you don't, I'll provide it for you, in it's original Yoda-speak form: "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." But for whatever reason, he seems to have forgotten that little tidbit of information, and slaughters this bright, promising young Jedi.

I want to put this discussion of Jacen - and his fall to the Dark Side on hold for just a minute, and bring up some real-world academic concepts. Mainly heroes and the Hero's Journey. Traditional heroes (and Star Wars Heroes) follow the Hero's Journey on a rather consistent basis. It's the monomyth - a concept, a story telling device, that is found throughout the world's literature and mythological/religious stories. It provides a way to discuss heroes, regardless of the circumstances of their individual stories. A way to relate them one to the other. But what is important to note, is that the HERO is a reactive force. The hero reacts to what is happening. He (and no whining about my use of the masculine pronouns, in proper English if you're talking about someone when the sex is unknown/indeterminate you're supposed to use masculine as the default gender) has to react to what the villain does. Be it Luke finding his aunt/uncle dead or Frank Castle watching as criminals slaughter his family. The villain is the driving force behind the hero's actions (and I'm using hero/villain here in a generic sense - after all in the Darth Bane book, Bane is the hero).

But now, back to Jacen.

Jacen is not a Star Wars Hero. He can't be. He lacks the traditional traits which make up a hero for the fantasy setting that we are given. Can he be a protagonist? Sure! And as such, he can be the hero of the story. But that's not the same thing as a Star Wars Hero. Luke is a Star Wars Hero. Anakin Solo is a Star Wars Hero. Jacen, well, he just doesn't have it in him.

So, what is Jacen? Is Jacen a villain? The ultimate evil of the Star Wars universe?

No matter how much I dislike his character - I'm inclined to say no. He's been given too much screen time, DR/LFL has invested too much in him, for that to happen. Frankly, I think all of LotF is an effort to reboot his character into the traditional Jedi mold.

Yes, I think they're taking 9 books to drive Jacen fully to the Dark Side and then redeem him, a subject matter which Luke managed to do in a single TPB.

In the same way that Jacen fails in the requirements for being a Star Wars Hero - he fails in the requirements needed to be a Star Wars Villain. He lacks that sense of destruction which the villains carry around with them. Frankly, he's just not dramatically evil enough nor is he Machiavellian enough to be a Star Wars Villain (and do note that this does not mean he's not a 'bad guy').

As he stands right now - Jacen is a Star Wars Anti-Hero.

What does that mean? Wikiepedia has this to say about an anti-hero:

An anti-hero in fictional works will typically take a leading role, performing acts which might be deemed "heroic" (at least in scale and daring), but using methods, manners, or intentions that may not be so - indeed are often underhanded or deceitful. The majority of anti-heroes are generally heroic, but cannot be termed as heroes because of some character flaw or defect, commonly moral ambiguity or selfishness. However another form an anti-hero may take is a character who avoids any idea of heroism, not out of a sense of humbleness, but due to a genuine fear of danger, or even risk.

The word is fairly recent, and its primary meaning has somewhat changed. As recently as 1940, the 600,000-word Merriam-Webster New International Dictionary, Second Edition, listed it but without a definition. By 1992 the American Heritage Dictionary of the American Language defined an anti-hero only as "a main character in a dramatic or narrative work who is characterized by a lack of traditional heroic qualities, such as idealism or courage" . Even the more recent Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, of 2004, says: "(1714): a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities." The original meaning, therefore, is that of a protagonist who is ineffectual and hapless, rather than resolute and determined, whether his motives are good or bad. In modern instances, anti-hero has come to refer to a protagonist of a work whose actions and motives are villainous or questionable.
Everything Jacen does, he supposedly does for his family. It's an threat from an outside source, possibly even created by Vergere and/or Lumiya in an effort to drive him deeper in the philosophical direction they wish him to go. Though logically, and from an out of universe point-of-view, that thought fails, it is important to note that the character believes it. He firmly believes that enforcing order (and his definition of order at that) at the cost of, well everything and anyone, is necessary for the protection of his daughter. This is a situation which Lumiya created, for the sole purpose of creating Darth Jacen. So, like the Hero, he is reacting to a Star Wars Villain. The thing is that his reactions are driving him to being what is recognized in-universe as evil.

It terms of plotting, it is an Anti-Hero's Journey. And it goes something like this:
  1. Training: The anti-hero begins his character life as a good guy. Often in training with others.
  2. Introduction: Is given a taste of evilness.
  3. The Threshold: Something happens, and a wedge is formed between the anti-hero and his friends
  4. Belly of the Whale: The point where the anti-hero begins his transition from good guy to bad guy
  1. Road of Trials: A series of steps, where the anti-hero begins to believe that the ends justify the means
  2. Meeting: The anti-hero is faced with evil, and does not immediately vanquish it
  3. Temptress: A friend of the anti-hero, who tries to talk him back onto the straight and narrow
  4. Atonement: The anti-hero has killed the friend, or through inaction, allowed the friend to die
  5. Apotheosis: The anti-hero has fully accepted being an anti-hero or an outright bad guy

  1. Ultimate Boon: The anti-hero now goes about his task, one that is often self-assigned, trying to accomplish his goals using whatever means are available, and in general not being concerned about little things like innocent bystanders, morality or right and wrong.
  1. Refusal: Good guys offer the chance at redemption. anti-hero laughs
  2. Magic Flight: The anti-hero fights the hero
  3. Rescue From Without: the hero does something to tilt the anti-hero's world. Shoving things into perspective
  4. The Return: The anti-hero fights the villain (this can be an internal struggle)
  5. Redemption: The anti-hero now has to struggle with the path of being a good guy
As you can see, this Anti-Hero's Journey works in terms of plot for not only Jacen, but for characters such as Kyp Durron, or any other Jedi who has taken a short stroll down the Dark Path, and I can even see it applied to characters from a couple of anime series I've recently watched. It is this journey that I see Jacen on, and that I believe DR/LFL are trying to encapsulate within LotF.

Whether I'm right or wrong about Jacen, his ultimate redemption, and LotF as a whole, well that is another matter altogether.

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