Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha: Return of the Plot

(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.)

Dueling Ambitions

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Author: John Jackson Miller

Artist: Brian Ching

Medium: Comic

Publication Date: March – May 2009

  • Reprinted April 2014 in Star Wars Omnibus: Knights of the Old Republic Volume 3

Timeline Placement: 3,963 BBY

Series: Knights of the Old Republic #39-41

The next stop on our journey through the Expanded Universe is a topic that has been central to the themes and messages of Star Wars since the beginning: slavery!

The Scooby Gang stops off at the planet Pantolomin to check out the big swoopduels, which is where professional athletes fight each other while riding around at high speeds on swoop bikes and/or dragons. Apparently Zayne is a huge sports nerd—who knew?—and is psyched out of his mind to see his lifelong hero, horned Gotal swoopduelist Goethar Kleej, the only competitor to win the Solo Aerials four years in a row. Are you excited yet?

The duels are operated by an entertainment company called the Franchise, which judging by its name is probably run by some guy called Lord Business. To no one’s surprise, however, things are not as swell as they appear. It turns out that in Goethar’s victory speech he exposed the Franchise as an evil organization who kidnaps and enslaves people for their games, forcing them to live in horrible, violent conditions until they prove themselves worthy of rising to the big leagues. The Franchise used magic to edit his live speech into a generic declaration about sportsmanship and gratitude, though.

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Goethar hopes the Franchise will punish him by sending him back to the pits so he can be with his autistic son, but he’s told that his son, Aubin, has already been promoted to the championship level. The only way he can stop his kid from getting killed is by entering the tournament himself to protect him.

Meanwhile, Rohlan has gotten bored and left the Hot Prospect to wander aimlessly. He’s immediately accosted by security for being an enemy combatant in a galactic war, but Gryph quickly explains that Rohlan is actually a duelist dressed like a Mandalorian for novelty’s sake. So now Rohlan is a contestant in the swoop duels. This is actually a lot funnier than it sounds.

While Rohlan’s prep team is buffing his armor backstage, Zayne comes to see him and randomly bumps into Goethar Kleej. Before he can even ask for his hero’s autograph, however, Goethar is like, “Hey, you’re Zayne Carrick, the famous not-murderer. ENTER THIS SPORTS COMPETITION TO PROTECT MY SON OR I WILL EAT YOUR FACE!!!”

Zayne and Aubin are the two winning duelists in one competition, and Goethar and Rohlan in another, so all four move on to the final round. Afterward, in the locker room, Zayne tries to convince Goethar that they can help each other destroy the Franchise, or I mean the Crucible, which is the actual slaving organization that supplies the Franchise. Goethar reveals that the woman who runs the Crucible once cut off his horns so now he wears fake ones. He reveals this by nonchalantly pulling the two ice cream cone-sized horns off his head like he’s pulling off a fake mustache. This is actually a lot funnier than it was intended to be.

Because of his amputation, Goethar has been unable to help his son learn to control the sensory input Gotals get through their horns, leaving him an insensate wreck. Zayne uses the Force to help teach Aubin how to cope. Meanwhile, Jarael has a dream that Malak, Rohlan, Demagol, and Arkoh Adasca are being mean to her.

The Franchise gets a visit from Jervo Thalien, the chairman of Lhosan Industries. You may remember him from that time he tried to blow up Gryph and Zayne on Taris for some vague plot-induced reason. Apparently there are no other corrupt businessmen in Star Wars during this time period, because Jervo is up to his fat non-neck in the Franchise’s illegal slaving and gambling operations. Upon learning that his old nemeses are involved in the games, he becomes fearful that Gryph will con their security force into selling him their pants, and orders that Zayne and Goethar meet with a tragic accident in the competition.

Gryph, hiding in the ceiling, gets all this on tape. He comes up with a plan to screw over the bad guys and come out on top with his friends, just like always. Jarael puts on blue body paint and one of her infinite supply of crop tops in order to pickpocket the games’ orchestral composer, while Elbee infiltrates the droid pit crew and steals a trash bin.

The competition finally begins, at which point Zayne the others realize that all of their weapons and bikes have been tampered with while their competitors’ weapons’ safety settings have been deactivated. They still win anyway though.

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Jarael has switched the composer’s music with a recording of Goethar’s unedited speech and Jervo’s admission of guilt. Although the Franchise stops it from reaching the broader galaxy, everyone in the stadium hears it and Jervo has to flee for his life. Goethar, Aubin, and Zayne escape the field in the confusion, leaving Rohlan the last man standing and the new galactic champion of swoopdueling.

Some time later, the Hot Prospect arrives at another spaceport on Pantolomin, where its crew unloads the garbage bin Elbee stole earlier. Hidden inside are legendary sports hero Goethar Kleej and his son. Why did they have to wait until the ship landed to climb out of the trash? Because the plot needed them to meet Jarael and be able to run off in the same scene.

As Goethar is thanking Zayne for all he’s done for them, Jarael comes out of the ship sans blue paint. Goethar reacts in horror to her tattoos, declares that everything Zayne said to him was a lie, and hightails it out of there with Aubin. Zayne is understandably confused. “I never knew what your tattoos meant,” he says. “Jarael—before Camper found you—were you a slave?”

“No, Zayne . . .” says Jarael, “. . . I was a slaver. Good night.”

Then she goes to bed and Zayne is just like, “Oh, okay. That’s cool, I guess. Why would that need any kind of follow-up? I am completely satisfied with how this conversation went.”

Back at the dueling complex, Jervo Thalien is trying to sever his connection with the Crucible. Instead, the Crucible severs Jervo’s connection with his life. “You can’t hide from me, Jarael,” says Chantique, the leader of the Crucible. “And you—and anyone who helps you—will pay!”

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Seriously, guys, why is it so cold in here?

Spending three issues on a Star Wars sporting event sounds like the dullest thing I’ve ever heard of. I kind of dug it, though. It’s no Quidditch, in that the game itself and its rules and history aren’t interesting, but it reminded me of the Taris Dueling Ring and swoop-racing circuit from Knights of the Old Republic: The Game. Neither of which were all that interesting either, but anything’s better than the goddamn Pazaak minigames.

After two (practically three, except for that chilling cliffhanger) standalone adventures, the series is finally gearing up for its second long story arc. And since there are only nine issues left, it’s not a moment too soon. Trying not to pre-judge too harshly, but at this point I don’t have much anticipation for the Crucible plot. The Covenant was part of the series’ DNA from issue 1, and we spent so much time on it (pointless detours included) that it’s difficult to feel like another arc confined to the very end of the series has any hope of measuring up. I assume it was different at the time this arc was being released, before readers knew that KotOR was doomed to die at issue 50. Approaching it from that mindset . . . nope, still not that exciting.

I just don’t care that much about Jarael’s Mysterious Past™ or tattoos. I still remember the last time a long-running series felt the need to lengthily explain the meaning behind a character’s tattoos. I guess I’m sort of interested to see who this Chantique is and why she would wear what looks like some kind of fancy lingerie to a business meeting/assassination, but I’ve never wondered where Jarael came from or what she was doing before she met Zayne. What makes her interesting is her relationship with Zayne and the role she plays in his capers now, not the angsty back story that I didn’t realize she was supposed to have. Confining my thoughts just to the content of this story specifically, though, it adequately does its job of setting up the new plot and introducing the new villain. Her wardrobe may be a little impractical but I give her points for cutting off Goat Man’s horns.

3/5 Death Stars I guess. Decent story told in a kind of boring way. Just like my life.

  • DarthYan

    chantique is an interesting villain; she’s absolutely vile, but she has a heartbreaking backstory and you can’t blame her for what she became. Destroyer is easily one of the darkest arcs star wars ever put out

  • DarthYan

    Also Daze of Hate and Flashpoint hinted there was something about Jarael