22 May 2014

Wisdom of Jedi Master Vergere

Vergere was a character created for the New Jedi Order series, which was perhaps the best series of the whole Star Wars Expanded Universe.  One of the particularly intriguing features of the NJO series was that the various authors seemed willing to step outside the simplistic moral box of good/evil, light side/dark side, white hat/black hat.  This culminated with the penultimate NJO novel, The Unifying Force.  The characters were more ambiguous morally, more real, for a more mature audience.

Vergere, a Fosh female Jedi Knight who came up under the Old Republic and kidnapped by a species alien to the Galaxy, was the character who introduced this new view of the Force to the Masters, Knights, and Padawans of the New Jedi Order (the Order of the New Republic itself, as opposed to the series) and to Star Wars fans.  It was a welcome breath of fresh air.  For me, the overall message of the NJO series is best expressed in a quote from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his book, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Alas, GL shit-canned all that by insisting there was an actual Light Side and Dark Side to the Force and everything was all good and all evil, much to the disappointment and really pissed-offness of many fans of the EU, especially of the NJO. In the later Legacy of the Force series, he made sure its authors turned Vergere into a full-fledged Sith.

GL and his acolytes at Lucasarts had a similar reaction to the humanizing of Clonetroopers and Mandalorians in the Republic Commando series, which never got finished due to disagreements between its sole author, Karen Traviss, and Lucasarts.

However, none of that matters since Disney, which owns the franchise now, has decreed none of it ever happened, even in a fictional universe.  Kind of like the way the reboot of the Star Trek franchise wiped out two or three hundreds years of history (I am a fan of the new as well as the old, btw).

Now, without further ado, the quotes of Jedi Master Vergere, whom I and other NJO fans have promoted to that rank.

The first is from James Luceno’s The New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos I: Hero’s Trial.

 “The Force is a sword with two edges.  Cut one way and vanquish.  But be careless on the backswing, or allow your mind to wander, and you risk undoing all you’ve accomplished.”

The rest of are from Matthew Stover’s The New Jedi Order: Traitor.

“Out of control is just code for ‘I don’t want to admit I’m the kind of person who would do such things.’ It’s a lie.”

“The most valuable lesson one can teach a fanatic is that fanaticism is self-defeating.”

“Questions are more true than answers, because all the answers fall short of the truth: this is the beginning of wisdom.”

“A master of defense is one who is never in the place that is attacked.”

“A right that is given is as useless as a virtue that is given. Rights are used, or they have no value, just as virtues must be performed.”

“Freedom is always alarming.”

“Orders not backed by force are only suggestions.”

“You feel empty. You feel alone.  Lonely.  Almost frightened, but also strong, yes?  The name for what you are feeling is freedom.  How did you expect it to feel?  You are free, and that can be lonely, and empty, and frightening.  But it is also powerful.”

“This is the shameful secret of the Jedi: There is no dark side.  The Force is one.  The Force is everything and everything is the Force.  The Force does not take sides.  The Force does not even have sides.”

“Light and dark are no more than nomenclature: words that describe how little we understand. What you call the dark side is the raw, unrestrained Force itself: you call the dark side what you find when you give yourself over wholly to the Force. To be a Jedi is to control your passion, but Jedi control limits your power. Greatness requires the surrender of control.  Passion that is guided, not walled away.  Leave your limits behind.  If your surrender leads to slaughter, that is not because the Force has darkness in it.  It is because you do.  The only dark side you need fear is the one in your own heart.”

“The truth is greater than the words we use to describe it.”

“Why is a question that is always deeper than the answer.  Perhaps you should ask you should ask instead: what?”

“What distinguishes a flower from a weed is only this: the choice of the gardener.”

“Sith?  Jedi?  Are these the only choices?  Dark or light, good or evil?  Is there no more to the Force than this?  What is the screen on which light and dark cast their shapes and shadows?  Where is the ground on which stands good and evil?”

“Everything I tell you is a lie.  And the truth.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Another Old Republic Jedi expressed views of the Force almost identical to those Vergere in Medstar II: Jedi Healer, by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry, set in the Clone Wars.  This time it was Padawan Bariss Offee, who at the end of the novel gained her Knighthood and the title Jedi.

“Feelings don’t come with ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ labels. You feel how you feel. You are only responsible for how you act.”

 “Jedi refer to the ‘light side’ and the ‘dark side’, but really, these are only words, and the Force is beyond words.  It is not evil, just as it isn’t good—it simply is what it is.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The following is a dialogue between Vergere and Jacen Solo when he was a prisoner of the Yuuzhan Vong (in Traitor) in which her wisdom can’t really be separated.

Vergere: “What is pain for?  Do you ever think about that, Jacen Solo?  What is its function? Many of our more devout masters believe that pain is the lash of the True Gods: that suffering is how the True Gods teach us to disdain comfort, our bodies, even life itself.  For myself, I say that pain is itself a god: the taskmaster of life. Pain cracks the whip, and all that lives will move. The most basic instinct of life is to retreat from pain. To hide from it. If going here hurts, even a granite slug will go over there; to live is to be a slave to pain. To be ‘beyond pai’' is to be dead, yes?”

Jacen: “Not for me," Jacen answered dully, once his throat opened enough that he could speak. "No matter how dead you say I am, it still hurts.”

Vergere: “Oh, well, yes. That the dead are beyond pain is only an article of faith, isn't it?  We should say, we hope that the dead are beyond pain--but there's only one way to find out for sure.”

Jacen: “I don't think anything. I just want it to stop.”

Vergere: “I am such a fool.  All this time, I had thought I was speaking to an adult.  Ah, self-deception is the cruelest trick of all, isn’t it?  I let myself believe that you had once been a true Jedi, when in truth you are only a hatchling, shivering in the nest, squalling because your mother hasn’t fluttered up to feed you.”

Jacen: “You...you...How can you... after what you’ve done...”

Vergere: “What I have done?  Oh, no no no, this is about what you have done.”

Jacen: “I haven’t done anything!”

Vergere: “Exactly. Is that not the infant’s tactic? To wail, and wail, and wail, to wriggle its fingers and kick its heals...hoping an adult will notice and care for it?”

Jacen: “What can I do?”

Vergere: “Certainly, among your options is continuing to hang in this room and suffer.  And so long as you do that, do you know what will happen?”

Jacen: “"What?”

Vergere: “Nothing.  Oh, eventually, you’ll go mad, I suppose.  If you’re lucky. Someday you may even die.  Of old age.”

Jacen: “Is that why you keep coming here? To gloat? To humiliate a defeated enemy?”

Vergere: “Am I gloating? Are we enemies? Are you defeated?”

Jacen: “I don’t understand.”

Vergere: “That, at least, is very clear. I give you a gift, Jacen Solo. I free you from hope of rescue. Can you not see how I am trying to help you?”

Jacen: “Help? When we talk about the kind of things you’ve done to me, help isn’t the word we use.”

Vergere: “No? Then perhaps you are correct: our difficulties may be linguistic. When I was very young, I came upon a shadowmoth at the end of its metamorphosis, still within its cocoon.  I had already some touch with the Force; I could feel the shadowmoth’s pain, its panic, its claustrophobia, its hopelessly desperate struggle to free itself.  It was as though this particular shadowmoth knew I was beside it, and screamed out to me for help.  How could I refuse?  So I gave it what you mean by help: I used a small utility cutter to slice the cocoon, to help the shadowmoth get out.”

Jacen: “"Oh, you didn't, did you? Please say you didn't.”

Jacen: ‘You can’t help a shadowmoth by cutting its cocoon.  It needs the effort; the struggle to break the cocoon forces ichor into its wing veins.  If you cut the cocoon—

Vergere: ‘The shadowmoth will be crippled. "Yes. It was a tragic creature--never to fly, never to join its fellows in their nightdance under the moons. Even its wingflutes were stunted, and so it was as mute as it was planetbound. During that long summer, we sometimes heard moonsong through the window of my bedchamber, and from my shadowmoth I would feel always only sadness and bitter envy, that it could never soar beneath the stars, that its voice could never rise in song. I cared for it as best I could-- but the life of a shadowmoth is short, you know; they spend years and years as larvae, storing strength for one single summer of dance and song.  I robbed that shadowmoth; I stole its destiny... because I helped it.”

Jacen: ‘That wasn’t helping. That’s not what help means either.”

Vergere: “No? I saw a creature in agony, crying out in terror, and I undertook to ease its pain, and assuage its fear.  If that is not what you mean by help, then my command of Basic is worse than I believed.”

Jacen: “You didn't understand what was happening.”

Vergere: “Neither did the shadowmoth.  But tell me this, Jacen Solo: if I had understood what was happening--if I had known what the larva was, and what it must do, and what it must suffer, to become the glorious creature that it could become--what should I have done that you would call, in your Basic, help?”

But tell me this, Jacen Solo: what should I have done that you would call help?”

Jacen: “I suppose the best help you could offer would be to keep the cocoon safe.  Hawk-bats hunt shadowmoth larvae, and they especially like newly cocooned pupae: that's the stage where they have the most stored fat.  So I guess the best help you could offer would be to keep watch
over the larva, to protect it from predators--and leave it alone to fight its own battle.”

Vergere: “And, perhaps, also to protect it from other well-intentioned folk—who might wish, in their ignorance, to ‘help’ it with their own utility cutters.  And also perhaps, you might stop by from time to time, to let the struggling, desperate, suffering, creature know that it is not alone. That someone cares. That its pain is in service of its destiny.”

Jacen: “Yes...”

Vergere: “Then, Jacen Solo, our definitions of help are identical.”

No comments: