Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha: The Old Republic, Part 1

SECOND ERA

THE OLD REPUBLIC

(25,000 – 1,000 Years Before Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)

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The Old Republic was the legendary government that united a galaxy under the rule of the Senate. In this era, the Jedi are numerous, and serve as guardians of peace and justice. The Tales of the Jedi comics series takes place in this era, chronicling the immense wars fought by the Jedi of old, and the ancient Sith.

 

Continuity Spotlight: The Origins of the Sith

At some point we have to talk about the history of the Sith and how irreparably screwed it is, so we might as well get it out of the way now.

Although Star Wars fans had long known that Darth Vader held the sinister-sounding title Dark Lord of the Sith, just what a “Sith” was went largely unaddressed until Tales of the Jedi started its run in 1993. This comic series, initially set 4,000 years before the movies, revealed that, even further back in history, a group of Jedi had fallen to the dark side and made war on their fellow Knights. These Dark Jedi were eventually defeated and exiled from the Republic. After wandering in space, they came at last upon the Sith, an alien race who, although primitive, was strong in the dark side of the Force. The Sith worshipped the exiles as gods, and the former Jedi became their masters: the Lords of the Sith, or Sith Lords. The Sith Lords used their alchemical prowess to interbreed with the Sith people, founding an empire ruled by those with the strongest Jedi blood.

These are the basic details that most books agree on, but discrepancies arose as more sources attempted to flesh out this back story. Tales of the Jedi Companion (1996), a West End Games roleplaying sourcebook, set the Jedi schism at 5,000 years BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin, as seen in Star Wars Episode IV), one millennium prior to the first Tales of the Jedi story arc. I believe this date was based on TotJ author Tom Veitch’s endnotes in the Dark Empire comics (1991-92), but since they’re long out of print I can’t confirm.

A month before the Companion’s publication, however, which means they were likely being written at the same time, Dark Horse Comics released The Golden Age of the Sith #0, which was itself set in 5,000 BBY and placed the birth of the Sith in the even more distant past. This issue also contributed to the mythology that the Great Schism that birthed the Sith was the first of its kind and lasted for 100 years.

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The ancient Sith/a boy band

Tom Veitch and Kevin J. Anderson were in contact with George Lucas while working on Tales of the Jedi and asked him numerous questions about his vision of that time period. Apparently he had no problem with the Sith-as-alien-species concept since that story made it to print, despite Lucas personally vetoing a similar idea in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire just a few years earlier. Lucas must have either forgotten or changed his mind, however, because while writing The Phantom Menace he came up with a completely different back story for the Sith.

According to the Episode I novelization (1999), Lucas now envisioned the Sith as coming into existence a mere 2,000 years before the movies, when a single Jedi fell to the dark side and seduced 50 followers to his cause. Almost immediately, these first Sith turned on one another in their hunger for power and destroyed themselves. The sole survivor was Darth Bane, the Sith Lord who instituted the practice of never allowing more than two Sith at a time, as seen in the movies. The fix for this was fairly easy: the EU adapted by suggesting that Lucas’s first Sith Lord had merely reinvented the Sith long after the magocratic empire from Tales of the Jedi had become extinct. It’s a bit of a cheat, but that’s basically what a retcon is.

After this minor debacle, the First Great Schism was finally established as taking place in the early days of the Old Republic, making the Sith (the evil magician kind, not the even older alien kind) almost as old as the Jedi themselves. This was made explicit in Star Wars: The Essential Chronology (2000), Star Wars Gamer #5 (2001) and Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters (2002), as well as implied in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003). KotOR’s take on the tale didn’t quite align with the going version, however.

One sub-quest in the game introduces the player to the ghost of Ajunta Pall, the very first Dark Lord of the Sith. Pall claims that he was among the first Jedi to turn to the dark side, but since he was also one of the exiles who discovered the Sith, he must have been well over 100 years old to have lived through the whole schism. There is some precedent in the EU for that kind of longevity among Force-users, but I think BioWare just forgot how long the schism was supposed to last.

More interesting than this possible goof, however, is how Pall describes the war itself. According to him, when the Dark Jedi were first discovered by their Jedi Masters, they fled to the Sith worlds to hide and build their power. There they turned on one another and eventually collapsed some kind of fortress upon themselves. In a really cool story hook that no other source ever picked up on, disappointingly, he also strongly hints that he and the other Dark Jedi harnessed the power of the Rakatan Star Forge during their rebellion. Pall’s version of events almost seems like a combination of Tales of the Jedi’s and The Phantom Menace’s back stories for the Sith, and it was never properly recontextualized in the broader canon.

SW5 Image 3But at least the timeline seemed to stay the same. “Ancient? Has it been so long that you use the word ‘ancient’?” Pall’s ghost asks the player mournfully. With KotOR set over 21,000 years after the Great Schism, Ajunta Pall would have been ancient indeed. That changed, however, with the publication of Star Wars: The New Essential Chronology (2005). This reference book introduced a completely new timeline for the history of the Sith and established the chronology of events that the EU would follow until its dissolution in 2014.

The First Great Schism remained in the early days of the Republic, but it now had nothing to do with the Sith. Instead, it spawned a completely different group of Dark Jedi, the Legions of Lettow, who were quickly defeated and then forgotten. Ajunta Pall and his fellow future Sith Lords now originated in the Second Great Schism of 7,000 to 6,900 BBY, a previously unexplored time period known as the Hundred-Year Darkness.

As far as I know, Lucasfilm has never explained their rationale for this retcon. There remained lingering contradictions in the back story of the ancient Sith (we’ll deal with those as they come up), but their origin wasn’t one of them. The only possible reason I can think of for moving the founding of the Sith Empire 18,000 years down the line is a throwaway piece of dialogue in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (2004) about ancient Sith weaponry.

The Sith Lords in The Golden Age of the Sith and The Fall of the Sith Empire used only magic swords, which implied that their ancestors had been exiled before the lightsaber came into popular usage, and the primitive state of lightsaber technology in those same stories seemed to confirm that. Kevin J. Anderson couldn’t even be consistent with his own story, however, and multiple flashbacks in Tales of the Jedi depicted modern-looking lightsabers in ancient times. Then in Knights of the Old Republic II, one of your party members offhandedly mentions that an historical Dark Lord of the Sith named Tulak Hord was a renowned lightsaber duelist.

By moving the formation of the Sith to 6,900 BBY, Lucasfilm was able to leapfrog all these anachronistic lightsaber appearances. Instead of just, you know, admitting that they were just mistakes. So as the canon stands now, the Sith Empire did have access to lightsaber technology, they just eschewed it in favor of cumbersome metal swords for no reason. And sure enough, stories published after this retcon but set during the Tales of the Jedi timeframe depicted ancient Sith wielding boring red lightsabers, further diluting the uniqueness of this era and homogenizing the EU. Ajunta Pall himself, despite being noted for carrying a sword in his initial appearance, has been depicted wielding a lightsaber in at least two subsequent texts.

Man, I sure am getting sick of Star Wars.

(Check out the Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha Archive for more meditations on obscure Star Wars lore.)

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