(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.)
Author: John Jackson Miller
Artist: Brian Ching
Publication Date: September – October 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 #45-46
We open with yet another of the undated flashbacks this series so loves. A young Dace Golliard, already working for the Crucible, talks to a Zeltron professor about some mysterious shipment being delivered to his academy. Golliard then asks if the professor, in turn, has anything for him. The professor says, “Yes, take my daughter, please!” His daughter, of course, is a very young Chantique.
Twenty-some years later, Chantique observes a newly acquired slave thrown into his first combat arena on the Crucible planet Volgax. He’s supposedly a pilot for the Republic Navy pilot named Carth Kamlin who was separated from his convoy and lost in space, but his real name is Zayne Carrick and he hasn’t thought this through at all. He’s pitted against “Snout,” a seasoned Caamasi gladiator who Zayne is only able to defeat by using the Force.
Zayne apologizes to him after their bout, but Snout just sits there looking depressed. The Night’s King’s lieutenant, looking a whole lot fatter and less terrifying than he did in the last issue, says that he’s never heard Snout speak in all the years he’s been in the Crucible. When I was first reading this comic, I didn’t even realize that this was supposed to be the same guy from the end of The Reaping and assumed that that fellow would show up again in the final arc, Demon, to play some important role. Nope, turns out he’s just a flunky named Bar’injar and doesn’t matter at all.
Later that day, Snout approaches Zayne and says that he can tell Zayne is a Jedi. He says that he has been here so long and seen so much he no longer remembers his name, but he thinks he was a history student named Ralthar Sitan. Zayne asks what the Crucible’s goal is, but Snout only has one way to show him. The Caamasi have the ability to share memes, memories of past intense experiences, with others of their species . . . or with those able to use the Force. Snout holds the traumatic experiences of every Caamasi ever taken by the Crucible, going back thousands of years, and he psychically shares them with Zayne now. Overwhelmed by the unceasing violence and death, Zayne collapses. Chantique and Bar’injar step out of the shadows and go, “Just as planned.”
Chantique takes Zayne to her room and reveals that they knew who he was the whole time. Dace Golliard immediately recognized that his supposedly lost starfighter had clearly been bought used on eBay, and they had security footage from the swoopduels of him with Jarael. They’ve already found and deactivated the tracking device on his ship so his friends on the Hot Prospect can’t find him, officially making this one of the worst plans in the history of bad plans.
She wanted him to see the Caamasi’s memories so he would understand what the Crucible was really all about. Zayne declares that the Crucible takes slaves and forces them to fight one another to the death for no reason at all; they have no great plan or ultimate goal beyond making people suffer. “The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power,” Chantique agrees.
Doesn’t this contradict what we’ve seen of the Crucible so far, though? They’re not just taking people and killing them for entertainment or out of some fanatical zeal; they’re running a business. They force the slaves to fight each other to weed out inferior combatants, then sell the cream of the crop to gladiatorial enterprises like the Franchise in Dueling Ambitions. They also provide expendable laborers to dangerous operations like the miners in The Reaping. Nothing wrong with committing wanton violence for violence’s sake and turning a tidy profit on the side, I guess.
Zayne demands how Jarael could have been a part of something so evil, even though he already knows she was just a kid at the time and, despite being a slave herself, tried to use her position to make life easier for the other slaves. Chantique tells him that Jarael’s birth named was Edessa, but the name she took in the Crucible’s language, which is spelled out by the tattoos on her face, means “destroyer.” And we have a title!
Elsewhere, Zayne’s friends discuss how inescapably screwed he is. His tracking device isn’t working, the Jedi won’t help them, the muscle they hired has gotten bored and taken another job (should have gotten the Moomo brothers, you dolts), and they have no idea who Zayne’s mysterious contacts are or how to reach them. Did I ever mention that Zayne has mysterious contacts now? I don’t remember if it’s ever come up in these reviews, but Zayne has mentioned a couple times that he has mysterious contacts now.
Jarael goes to talk to Elbee, their perpetually forgotten droid, because she’s overheard Zayne talking to him about this subject. He just sits there and ignores her until she mentions that Zayne has been made a slave, because he can relate. Zayne hadn’t actually been talking to Elbee at all, but using him as a transmitter to talk to Shel Jelavan, his former crush and the sister of his dead best friend.
Back on Volgax, we rejoin Zayne and Chantique in the same conversation from before. Chantique claims that Jarael is a monster who, when they were teenagers, literally stabbed her in the back and left her to die. No longer a fit slave, she was sold off to sex traffickers and mercilessly abused until she had healed enough to kill everyone and escape. Jesus Christ, Star Wars. As proof of Jarael’s duplicity, Chantique points out how Zayne never even knew that she was his senior by a full six years all this time.
Eventually Chantique found her way back to the Crucible, where she rose to the rank of Magister Impressor, the person in charge of the capture, training, and disposal of all slaves. Bar’injar, by contrast, is Magister Protector, the person in charge of defending the Crucible from threats. So is Chantique really even the head of the organization, then? Do they even have an overall leader? So many questions, so little time.
Thinking nothing of the fact that Jarael worked for the Crucible to make sure no one else was treated like she had been while Chantique went back to work for them to make sure she was never treated like that again, Zayne realizes that Chantique is a Force-user and has been reading his mind and influencing his thoughts all this time. She sends him back to the pits, where he’s forced into another duel with Snout, this time to the death or something.
Zayne tries to tell Snout, or rather Ralthar Sitan, that the Crucible can’t make them fight, but Ralthar is resigned to the fact that they have already turned him into a killer. Since his mindmeld with Zayne, his thoughts have cleared and he has been able to piece together the true history of the Crucible. They are a remnant of the ancient Sith Empire, dating back to the Great Hyperspace War if not earlier. The long-dead Sith Lord Ieldis, who was previously mentioned back in issue 29, created them to turn conquered populations into standing armies. They have continued operating in secret ever since, even after the death of Ieldis and the fall of the Sith Empire, driven solely by the purpose instilled in them by their Sith masters thousands of years ago, the need to continue on at all costs.
Ralthar attacks Zayne and wrestles him to the ground, driving a dagger toward his face. Zayne grabs his wrist to block the strike, but Ralthar turns the blade on himself, stabbing it through a gap in his armor he purposefully left exposed. I’m fairly certain there must have been some miscommunication between the writer and the illustrator, however, because the dialogue makes it sound like Zayne was the one holding the knife and Ralthar caused Zayne to kill him. The way it’s drawn, however, the Caamasi appears to stab himself without any help from Zayne.
“Try—try to forget,” says Ralthar Sitan, a tear running down his furred face. “Meaningless, wasn’t it?” asks Chantique.
Sometime later, the Hot Prospect arrives on Volgax. The Crucible has already packed up shop, but they’ve left Zayne behind, and Jarael finds him sitting in the rain beside Ralthar’s grave. And she just will not stop running her goddamn mouth:
“Zayne! Zayne! I’m so glad we found you! I didn’t think we ever would—if not for Shel! Elbee put us in touch. I can’t believe she’s on Coruscant now—working for Senator Goravvus! He escaped Taris after the Resistance fell—and now he’s a champion for refugees everywhere! What am I saying? You know this—she’s your resource! She told you where the Crucible might be before—based on reports of missing travelers. Well, she did it again. Somebody sighted the Crucible here on Volgax! Looks like they’ve pulled out already—I’m sorry we were too late. I’m sorry this happened at all. But I’m so glad to see you— Uh—Zayne? Are you all right? Zayne?”
Zayne is mad at her for working for the Crucible, then running away and not doing anything to help all the people she left behind. He demands to know why she still goes by the name they gave her, then turns away and declares that he needs time to come to grips with all her bullshit. Jarael counters that she never wanted to deal with her past at all until Zayne forced her to, and she thought that now they were going to deal with it together. Since he’s being such a little bitch about it, though, maybe it’s time they went their separate ways. Also, she adds, the only reason she kept her name and her tattoos is because, in the language of the Crucible, jarael means “protector.”
“. . . . Protector?!” gasps Zayne, turning back around, but Jarael has already vanished into the rain.
In his behind-the-scenes blog on Destroyer, John Jackson Miller revealed that he had originally planned for this story to span three issues instead of two, but Dark Horse’s unexpected cancellation of his comic forced him to truncate the story he wanted to tell in order to have enough time to do the finale. I assume that this is the reason for Jarael’s giant exposition dump at the end, but it still looks ridiculous in the comic when she spends an entire page telling Zayne things he already knows.
I’m still not the biggest fan of Brian Ching’s art. It’s far from poor by any standard, but this series will never recover from the loss of Dustin Weaver. That said, Ralthar “Snout” Sitan looks freaking awesome. The Caamasi (another invention of EU godfather Timothy Zahn) are such a cool-looking alien design and Ching’s pencils somehow put a lot into this character that, despite the impact he’s supposed to have on Zayne, doesn’t do all that much in the actual story.
If John Jackson Miller had followed my years-late advice in the last review on how to condense Dueling Ambitions and The Reaping into a single story, he would have had enough issues to spare to do Destroyer the full justice he intended. I’d like to think that Zayne’s experience with the memes would be fleshed out a little more, since when he’s talking to Jarael he seems to confuse himself with the perpetrators of violence in the Caamasi’s shared experiences, but that kind of katra bleedover doesn’t come across until that point.
Psychic confusion aside, I still say Zayne’s being too hard on Jarael. She was kidnapped and enslaved as a small child and raised by a secret society of insane murderers, but she still tried to help the other slaves in the only way she could and fled from that life when she saw the opportunity. The Crucible has existed for thousands of years and is all but impossible to find if they don’t want you to; what was she supposed to do to stop them? Plus, it was her decision to eventually face her past and try to bring the Crucible down anyway. Quit being a dick, Zayne.
Nitpicks aside, this was still a pretty solid two-issue story. It’s good to see our heroes finally going up against the villains themselves instead of some proxy organization. Also the idea of the Crucible, an ancient weapon leftover from a civilization that no longer exists but continues to sow misery and destruction for no greater purpose because it no longer remembers its purpose, is pretty awesome. It calls to mind the GenoHaradan from the original Knights of the Old Republic, a 20,000-year-old secret society who have shaped galactic history behind the scenes via political assassinations. Man, the KotOR sub-era is so great.
4/5 Death Stars.