(Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha is a foolish attempt to examine the entirety of the now decanonized Star Wars Expanded Universe and quantify its assorted artistic merits. Read the introduction. Check out the archives.)
The Lost Suns
Author: Alexander Freed
Artists: Dave Ross and George Freeman (issues 1, 2, 4, 5), David Daza (issue 3)
Publication Date: June – October 2011
Timeline Placement: 3,643 BBY (with flashbacks to 3,653 BBY)
Series: The Old Republic
We’ve finally reached the end of the TOR comics, and unlike Zayne Carrick’s last adventure in Knights of the Old Republic, it’s come not a moment too soon. First, if you recall, we met Teneb Kel, who killed a girl with red skin and stabbed his best friend in the back to become the dreaded Darth Thanaton, a sad chimpanzee with a metal neck. Then we revisited the Treaty of Coruscant and experienced a side of those events much less entertaining and more poorly illustrated than that we saw in Deceived. Both of those stories were originally webcomics that were later reformatted as traditional comic book issues, but The Lost Suns changed things up and debuted in stores as five monthly single issues. Did it make any difference to the quality of the storytelling or the art? Nope!
The Lost Suns marks our timeline’s introduction of Theron Shan, the son of Grand Master Satele Shan. Aside from his mother, he’ll soon become the closest thing we have to a main character in this time period of the EU. If you don’t count the eight player characters from The Old Republic itself, that is (and even Satele, for all her appearances, is never the main character of any story she appears in, except maybe the execrable Threat of Peace).
Unless you’re spending hundreds of hours playing the MMO, the TOR sub-era really doesn’t have a lot to offer you. Sure, the cinematic trailers and those timeline videos (which BioWare never even bothered to finish) are cool, but Dawn of the Jedi, Tales of the Jedi, and Knights of the Old Republic each had their own established cast and a singular identifiable main character. With the TOR spinoffs, we’ve had a new protagonist in practically every story, and almost none of them have ever appeared again.
Even Theron Shan, who headlines this comic, the next novel, and a few short stories, never really feels like a true protagonist; he shows such scant personality in these five issues and we learn so little about him that he might as well be another one-and-done lead like Teneb Kel or Zeerid Korr, whoever that was. He’s a video game character transplanted into a comic book, and it’s clear that the author isn’t interested in saying anything about him or the world he inhabits. Unlike John Jackson Miller’s KotOR comics, which were spun off from a game but refused to live in its shadow and forged their own identity independent of their namesake, anything marked with the brand The Old Republic is wholly subservient to its source material. All of these comics and novels and short stories are conscious of their own lack of necessity. You can feel it when you’re reading them, and if they don’t care, why should we? It’s like reading a Mass Effect comic: here’s a character, they’re doing something in a setting you love, then it ends.
The complete time frame of The Old Republic, from the return of the Sith to the latest game expansion, covers more than 50 years. That’s a lot of time to play with, and it’s almost criminal how little advantage TOR‘s supplementary material took of it. Instead of telling scattershot filler stories about disposable characters that do nothing to build any meaningful sense of the era, why didn’t they do a single ongoing series like KotOR? Commit to a cast and use them to explore the world you’re building. You can have appearances from game NPCs, but focus on original characters so you’re not enslaved to preexisting personalities and narrative endpoints. I see no reason why a quality series set during the Great War or Cold War couldn’t have functioned as a promotional tie-in just as ably as the garbage they did put out. I’m not even sure who’s to blame for this—BioWare, LucasArts, Dark Horse, Del Rey—but someone really dropped the balls.
Anyway, let’s get into this thing.
The Lost Suns begins with a flashback to ten years prior, in the last days of the war before the Treaty of Coruscant. Four Jedi Knights, led by Satele Shan (and including Sith sleeper agent Syo Bakarn, for those keeping track of recurring minor characters), head a battalion of Republic troopers fighting the forces of the evil Darth Mekhis on Rhen Var, the desolate ice world where Ulic Qel-Droma lived out his self-imposed exile in Tales of the Jedi: Redemption. I’m not sure why Mekhis wants the world or why the Jedi don’t just let her have it, since it appears to have no strategic or resource value, but here we are. I’m also not sure if the illustrator knew that there was only a ten-year gap between this flashback and the rest of the story, as here Satele looks about the same age she was during the Battle of Alderaan (and in fact Alderaan is named alongside Rhen Var as one of the final battles of the war), when according to the finalized timeline she should be 46. Apparently The Lost Suns suffers from the same chronology snafu as Threat of Peace where the writer placed the Treaty of Coruscant 30 years before the start of the MMO rather than 10.
Satele Shan bursts into Darth Mekhis’s command center, but the flashback ends before we see what actually happens between them, even though Mekhis spends the rest of the comic complaining about how badly Satele fucked her up. Back in present times, we meet Theron Shan, a cyborg spy working for the Republic Strategic Information Service, the TOR CIA. He busts up a Black Sun slaving ring and arrests one of the slavers, an 18-year-old female Twi’lek named Teff’ith. Instead of taking her to jail, though, he just keeps her locked up on his ship and drags her around on his spy assignments, which seems . . . unorthodox.
Theron reports in to his boss and tells him he’s thinking of taking some vacation time. His boss tells him, “We need you, Theron. No one else can do what you do: spy on people through binoculars then run up and punch them.” It turns out that Ngani Zho, the revered Jedi Master who raised Theron after his mom got knocked up, carried him to term, and then decided she didn’t want him because of the whole Jedi “no attachments” thing, has resurfaced after going missing in the aftermath of the war. He’s been sighted near the Imperial border, ranting like a crazy person about a sinister Sith conspiracy. Republic Intelligence wants to know if he has valid intel to share, and since Theron is personally invested in this mission, there’s no better operative to send.
It’s also mentioned that Zho trained half the Jedi Council, including Grand Master Satele Shan, and it’s here that I again have to stop recapping the story to recap my own confusion. When we first met Satele Shan, she was introduced alongside her Master, Kao Cen Darach, in the Return cinematic trailer (June 2011). He was killed in that short, then when we met Satele again in Threat of Peace (February 2009), she had a new Master, Dar’Nala, who turned to the dark side and was also killed. Now The Lost Suns (June 2011) is giving her a third Master without any mention of the other two. In fact the comic implies that Ngani Zho trained Satele before the Sith Empire returned, which makes her apprenticeship to Dar’Nala 28 years into the war seem a little odd. Is who trained Satele Shan another one of those EU stories that everyone wants to tell no matter how many times it’s been told before, like the theft of the Death Star plans or Boba Fett’s escape from the Sarlacc? Why?
So Theron sets out to retrieve his old Master, accompanied by Teff’ith and his faithful astromech droid, M-6. I wonder what kind of difficulties he’s going to face in his search, what misadventures await him as he uses his specialized skills as an intelligence operative to track down his old never mind he just immediately finds him standing around in the street. It’s fine. We’re fine.
They share a brief reunion and are soon attacked by Sith Knights, cybernetic creations of Darth Mekhis made from captured Jedi grafted into robot bodies. M-6 releases Teff’ith and she shoots the Sith Knights in the face with a giant gun. They escape.
A further flashback reveals that, of the twelve members of the Sith Emperor’s Dark Council, only seven survived the war, and one of the conditions of the Treaty of Coruscant was that the Republic cede each of them a specific star system of their choosing, sparsely populated and of no strategic value. My initial thought was that each Sith Lord wanted a system to rule as their own domain, and what a cool idea that is, of different regions of space governed by the individual whims and personal cruelties of seven Sith, subservient to the Emperor but each powerful enough to pose their own distinctive threat. That sounds like a fun setting for a video game. But it turns out all seven systems went to Darth Mekhis for her experiments and apparently none of the other six Dark Councillors were involved at all.
I was planning to wait until we got to the New Sith Wars (one novel and a few short stories to go) to talk about the New Sith Wars, but I’m compelled to touch my briefs on it now because Darth Mekhis is basically Belia Darzu. Belia Darzu was a female Dark Lord of the Sith most notable for her knowledge of Sith alchemy and cybernetics, as well as being a shapeshifter. She created the technobeasts, a legion of self-perpetuating mutant cyborg monstrosities, through the Sith incantation of mechu-deru vitae. All of this sounds nerdy as shit but it’s fucking awesome, all right? Darzu reigned during the New Sith Wars, the 1,000 years of Jedi-and-Sith warfare that preceded the 1,000 years of peace that preceded The Phantom Menace. Like so many of the most intriguing tales populating the Expanded Universe, her story is told entirely through sourcebooks and reference articles; she never appears in a single work of narrative fiction.
In fact, the New Sith Wars themselves, which have existed as a concept since 1999, feature in only a handful of stories, virtually all of which are set within the last 30 years of the 1,000-year conflict. Looking at the EU as a whole today, following its discontinuation in 2014, the failure to capitalize on the narrative potential of the New Sith Wars stands out as one of the most painful missed opportunities in Star Wars. This era, known as the Draggulch Period of galactic history, is bereft of stories but brimming with lore, from the Frankensteinian experiments of Belia Darzu to the depredations of the Dark Underlord, a Sith spirit summoned from Hell and made incarnate by black sorcery. Suffering through all of these tie-ins to a game that didn’t need to be, I’m reminded of an old message board post from TheForce.Net, written the year before The Old Republic was first announced.
Dear LFL and affiliated licensee people,
Okay, so, you now how it’s like really hard and stuff to do a new or creative story without being worried about established continuity? Like, if you want to make a Jedi vs. Sith game or something, but crap! where do you set it? Or you want say a new giant story arc, but oh no! there’s already fifteen hundred books, comics, and short stories right where you want it to be? Or, like, you want to create your own special Character of Galactic Importance, but the trouble is no one remembers anyone like your dude doing anything in the time frame you pick?
Well, guess what! I was just reading some stuff, and I found the really AWESOME era to set stories in!!! It turns out that, like, there was a period of a THOUSAND YEARS called the “New Sith Wars” or something like that when it was just nothing but constant Jedi on Sith ACTION! Think about it, fellas: a THOUSAND YEARS! That’s like, three hundred times as long as the Clone War or something! And, even better, it turns out that this ENTIRE era of– remember, ONE THOUSAND YEARS!– is almost totally empty of any stories at all! That’s right– there’s NOTHING to worry about contradicting! And, even better, what little we do know about the era is, like, FULL of storytelling/gaming potential! I’m serious. Thousands of Jedi. Thousands of Sith. Different factions of Sith and other Force-users. Zombies. ZOMBIE JEDI. Creepy mysterious and possibly un-dead Sith Lords. Mandalorians. Mysterious secret societies. Cameos by characters from other eras. Shape shifting Sith Lords. Sith alchemy. Jedi Supreme Chancellors. Galaxy-wide devastation. And did I mention Zombies? I mean, shoot, you name it, this era’s got it, PLUS room to make up, oh, whatever you want (pretty much).
I’m tellin’ you, guys, this is a can’t-lose opportunity. Post apocalyptic stories, good ol’ fashioned Jedi vs. Sith action, Mandie-centric romps, zombie plagues, whatever you want, it’s here. Hell, you could even set one of them online role-playing thingies here and not have to worry about mucking stuff up– talk about having your cake and eating it, too!
Now, get to it! Give us some New Sith Wars stuff! We’ll eat it up! You can do whatever you want! It’s win-win!
You can thank me later.
No offense if you’re a TOR fan, I don’t mean to trash the game because as I’ve said before it looks fun as fuck and if it had come out five years earlier I’d have played it until I died of exhaustion and dehydration. But from a continuity standpoint, it’s a logistical nightmare. Not only did it shit on both KotOR games and ruin any chance of them ever receiving a proper follow-up, it also dropped the lengthiest and most destructive war in the entire EU into a space on the timeline with no previous mention of any significant galactic conflict. Now instead of an era characterized by unique episodes of localized dissension like the Kanz Disorders or the Alsakan Conflicts, we have Sith Empire, Jedi versus Sith, reclusive body-hopping Sith Emperor on a quest for immortality, Grand Moffs, superweapons, soldiers in white armor and helmets that look kind of like stormtrooper armor, Imperials, bad guys are racist against aliens to show that they’re the bad guys, triangular warships, Jedi Council, a hot brunette Jedi chick with a double-bladed lightsaber, Sith Troopers, six-spoked Imperial crest, the public views the Jedi with mistrust, droids that look like destroyer droids, the bad guys attack Coruscant and the Republic is defeated, and more of the same.
Basically the point is that they could have just made a few minor changes to The Old Republic‘s backstory and it would have fit perfectly into the New Sith Wars era without upsetting continuity or adding yet another redundant Sith War to the timeline, and in the process fleshed out one of the coolest time periods in the EU with the most untapped storytelling potential and opened it up for further exploration.
But because they didn’t do that, we have to talk about this stupid comic.
We learn through yet another flashback that Ngani Zho raised Theron Shan since he was six months old and tried to train him in the ways of the Jedi. As his final trial, Zho had Theron trek across a desert to find a Jedi enclave on the planet Haashimut, where Zho believed his pupil would be taken in as a Padawan. Much to Theron’s dismay, he was told by the Jedi there that he actually had no sensitivity to the Force at all, and he would have to leave.
Back in the present, Zho explains that whatever he saw behind Sith lines was so horrible he can’t remember what it was, but he knows that have to stop it. They swing by Port Nowhere, which I think was a location in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Zho mind-tricks some dude into giving them flight clearance to enter the Vesla system. Their journey there must be uneventful because the story skips it completely. Charlize Theron, Zho’s Hope, Teflon, and MI6 make camp on an outlying planetoid in the system, where Theron uses his Super-Spy Mega-Telescope™ to investigate the nearby planets. One has been cracked apart, seemingly by some kind of gravity weapon, and another poisoned and infested with space monsters.
Theron then turns his telescope on the system’s sun itself (something you should never ever do btw), where he beholds . . . THE SUN RAZER!
It is a massive shipyard that completely encircles the star and uses its energy to manufacture superweapons for the Sith Empire. Currently such superweapons include: “The Gauntlet: light-speed cannon capable of eliminating hyperspace targets. Emperor’s Shadow: third-generation cloaking technology commissioned by Darth Malgus. The Undying: unknown. Ascendant Spear: long-range battle-cruiser with Class 0.5 hyperdrive. The Silencer: rapid-recharge ‘fleet killer’ mega-laser.”
Apparently there’s one of these things in each of the seven systems that the Republic gave the Dark Council. “They’re eating stars now, Theron,” says Zho. “This is what the Empire does.” Jeez, I hope no one tells him about the Star Forge.
Theron and his friends make a run for it but their ship is captured by the Sith dreadnought Valor Prevails as it lifts off the planet. They manage to hide Teff’ith somewhere aboard, but Theron and Zho are captured and M-6 is killed, I guess. Credit where credit is due, there’s a legitimately funny moment when a flashback, narrated by Zho recounting his years of spying on Darth Mekhis’s experiments in the Vesla system, transitions back to the present to reveal Zho strapped to an interrogation, where he asks a masked Sith, “What’s your story, then? Did you always want to torture people?” and the scene just ends.
The dreadnought’s captain tries to impress Theron with the size of his superweapon, inviting him to come work for them. “Can I have a slave brand like yours?” Theron asks, making fun of the marking tattooed on the captain’s cheek. The captain feels self-conscious and has Theron beaten up by the guards and taken to the torture chamber. “I’ve spent the last twelve hours rebooting my cybernetics and gaining access to prison security,” Theron tells Zho, because I guess that’s just something he can do. They escape.
After rendezvousing with Teff’ith, they decide that there isn’t time to warn the Republic and they have to destroy the Sun Razer. Zho and Teff’ith will create a distraction while Theron infiltrates the control room and deactivates the Razer’s shields, which should theoretically destroy it instantly. If it’s so close to the sun that it would immediately burst into flames without its deflector shield, how much energy must they be wasting just to keep the shields up and running 24/7? Can we get a lore book with a reproduction of the Sun Razer’s monthly power bill, please?
Zho gives his lightsaber to Theron, even though Theron insists he doesn’t know how to use it, and they part ways. Zho and Teff’ith tangle with some guards and are forced back into a hangar bay. The Sith melt through the door and Ngani Zho pushes Teff’ith out of the way of their incoming blasterfire but is killed by the barrage.
“Such an unexceptional death,” Darth Mekhis observes, watching on a closed-circuit TV in the control room.
Theron Shan drops out of the ceiling and shoots some dudes but is immediately apprehended by the Sith Knights. An Imperial officer holds a gun to his head, then the scene changes, and when it changes back it’s a random Sith soldier holding the gun. Flawless continuity.
“Darth Mekhis!” Theron shouts, pulling out Zho’s lightsaber. “Take a close look before you kill me. My name is Theron Shan. You know that name, don’t you? I’m the son of Master Satele Shan, who broke you on Rhen Var. I was trained by Ngani Zho. Ten generations of Jedi blood flow through my veins. You can sense the truth. Are you afraid to face me?”
Darth Mekhis is like “Huh?” and Theron drops the lightsaber and shoots her in the face with a poison dart.
Famous Last Words: “.” – Darth Mekhis
Theron kills everyone, pushes the blow-up button, and jumps aboard his ship just as Teff’ith is taking off in it. The Sun Razer explodes. They escape.
After dropping off Teff’ith at the nearest space port, her recent history of slaving apparently forgiven, Theron returns to Coruscant and reports to his boss. His boss tells him that the Sith are unable to complete the other six Sun Razers without Darth Mekhis’s technical genius, but the superweapons they already constructed are still out there and, thanks to Theron’s actions, the Sith are likely to terminate the truce and put them into action. By this point the earliest events of The Old Republic itself, which spans several years, have already taken place, meaning that the end of the Cold War is looming and the galaxy is teetering on the brink of the next major war.
In the meantime, though, Satele Shan walks into her house on Tython and finds Theron waiting for her like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. She hasn’t seen him since he was six months old and doesn’t recognize him. Theron informs her that Ngani Zho is dead. Satele asks if his lightsaber survived so it can be preserved in the Jedi Archives, but Theron says, “Sorry. Must have been lost in the chaos.” At first I thought he was lying and the comic would end with the revelation that he had saved the lightsaber and was keeping it for himself, to remind himself where he came from even though he ultimately couldn’t be a part of that world. But nope, he just left it on the Sun Razer. I guess he really didn’t care.
Satele asks his name but Theron tells her it’s classified. “I see,” she says. “Is there . . . anything else you want to tell me?”
“Not anymore,” says Theron. He escapes.
Such an unexceptional comic. 1.5/5 Death Stars.