Friday Flotsam: Being Sick, Pope, and More Thrawn

1. I caught a bad cold last weekend which knocked me out entirely for two days and now is settling into a general, lingering annoyance.

This led me into some very bad days for depression as well, partly because I tried to use the time to write only to find that, one way or another, I couldn’t make the stories work. And, of course, when that happens the more revisions you attempt and the longer the effort takes, the more you begin to wonder whether you actually have any talent at all.

Fortunately, I’m feeling better physically and much better psychologically

2. My indisposition, however, did afford me at least the great pleasure of reading The Rape of the Lock for the first time, which is surely one of the best satires ever written. The style and pattern of epic poetry is captured exactly, and applied to the pettiest possible subject of an ill-judged prank at a fancy dinner party. It’s the sort of farce that only a genuine genius like Alexander Pope could have created (not to be confused with any of the Popes Alexander, Papist though he was). And my goodness, this is some absolutely gorgeous English verse! There’s a reason why Pope comes second only to Shakespeare in Bartlett’s quotations.

3. I also finished up the Hand of Thrawn duology, which ends up being a kind of grand finale for the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. My conclusion, having now read two of Timothy Zahn’s series, is that he excels at plot, character, and ideas, but stumbles on the endings. It seems he has trouble bringing all his excellent plot threads together to a satisfying conclusion.

4. On the other hand, Zahn has a particularly skillful eye for political dynamics. A large part of the plot involves a debate on how the New Republic should respond to a particular atrocity that is now coming back to attention. Everyone agrees that it’s an atrocity and needs to be addressed, but it isn’t as simple as that since there’s a question of who the specific culprits were and whether the guilty faction even has the means to make atonement. More to the point, the different factions around the galaxy are, for the most part, not actually concerned about justice so much as they are using the crisis as an excuse to air their own old grievances and settle old scores. The actual victims want nothing but peace, but everyone ignores them in order to posture in their name. There’s a risk that even something wholly beneficial might become controversial simply because the two sides don’t want to agree, so if one supports it, the other will oppose it. Though at the same time there are a lot of sincerely concerned people who genuinely want to see justice done. The whole thing has just the right touch of clear-eyed realism without undermining the fundamental moral compass of the series.

And I have to point out that there is a world of difference between this kind of realism – considering the full implications of a thing and how different factions with different goals and values would try to take advantage of it – and the adolescent cynicism that characterizes the likes of The Last Jedi or the works of Zack Snyder.

5. And as noted, Zahn’s character work is excellent. Of particular note this time around is Admiral Palleon, Thrawn’s second-in-command in Heir to the Empire and now his successor as supreme military commander of the remaining Empire: a man who works for the ‘bad guys’ but is himself an honorable and clear-sighted man who sees both that harm that has been done by his side and the fact that the war is effectively over and that they’ve lost. I really like this kind of character: someone who works for the antagonist faction, but is personally admirable. Especially if he achieves a position of power and influence, because then we have the satisfaction of knowing that the vast power of the enemy faction, which we’ve learned to fear, is now in the hands of someone we can depend upon to do the right thing with it.

One of my favorite bits in the book has Palleon storming an Imperial prison to rescue a friend of his who had been treacherously captured by the villainous faction. Reaching the correct cell, he orders the guard to open it. The guard responds that he’s under strict orders not to let anyone see this prisoner. Palleon just looks at him sternly and then repeats the order verbatim.

That’s a great way of conveying an air of authority, a man who will not play these petty political games: he doesn’t storm or rage, he simply repeats himself, conveying the unmistakable message that he considers the guard’s ‘orders’ to be absolutely irrelevant. He’s not here to argue or debate; he’s here to command and be obeyed.

6. Overall, despite the disappointing conclusion to the main plot, the two Hand of Thrawn books are a worthy capstone to the long Star Wars saga, and I will likely regard this as the true and proper end of the story: not perfect, but adequate to the job, and highly entertaining in themselves

7. I’m generally of the opinion that an adventure doesn’t really feel finished until you see the hero on the way to matrimony. Not that every adventure needs a love story, but it’s generally advisable.

You see, an adventure, as I understand it, is about progressing from a false or unsustainable order through disorder into true order. In Star Wars, the false order is the tyrannical and illegitimate rule of the Empire on the macro level and Luke Skywalker’s unsatisfactory farm life on the other. It then progresses through disorder, the adventure of the rebellion, into a true order: the restoration of the republic and the Jedi.

But I think the adventure isn’t really complete until Luke has a home and family in place of the one he left: a stable peace of his own.

Adventure ought to be about making the world safe for domesticity, so the story doesn’t really feel satisfactorily over until the domesticity is assured.

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