Sith

Going Solo: Darth Maul

Before writing my previous post – Talkerverse: Vader Kills Maul – my intention had been to write this post. Wanting to discuss (spoiler!) Darth Maul’s incredibly brief cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, I sat down to write but my brain had other intentions. Acquiescing to my train of thought, I ran with my imagination and wrote about how I think Vader should have killed Darth Maul in Revenge of the Sith. You can go read all about that (click HERE) but for now let’s chat about that surprising Solo cameo…

Soooooo, yeah, Darth Maul makes an appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story. How about that? I dunno about you, but I DID NOT see that coming. As I watched the film, and it started to become clear that the film’s antagonist, Dryden Vos, was working on behalf of some shadowy figure, I was thinking it would end up being Snoke. Even up to the moment of Maul’s reveal, when he is contacted by Han Solo’s childhood friend Qi’ra, I believed we would be met by the face of the one-day First Order Supreme Leader. Never-the-less, seeing Darth Maul – and actor Ray Park reprising the character he brought to life in The Phantom Menace – definitely caught me off-guard.

As a die-hard Star Wars fan who has kept up with Star Wars stories across all mediums, it made complete sense that Darth Maul was the shadowy figure who instilled fear in the criminal Dryden Vos. After all, The Clone Wars animated show resurrected Maul from his bifurcated death and elevated him to the status of underworld crime lord. In The Clone Wars, as many of you may know (but some may not), Darth Maul unified a coalition of terrorists and criminal organizations under his authority, in turn using his nefarious organization to take control of the planet Mandalore. Maul’s actions – with the assistance of his brother Savage Oppress – launched him into galactic relevance, making it necessary for the Jedi, and his former Sith Master (Darth Sidious), to take him seriously as a threat. Following The Clone Wars, the four-part Son of Dathomir comic continued his Clone Wars era story-arc, while E.K. Johnston’s Ahsoka novel showed that Maul’s grip on the planet Mandalore was strong even at the wars end. As well, Maul once again re-emerged in Star Wars Rebels, a menace to the Lothal rebels with his life finally coming to end on Tatooine when he confronts, and is killed by, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

maul
A very broken Darth Maul in The Clone Wars. I discuss how he survived his death in my post Cheating Death: The Dark.

Photo Credit – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 21, “Brothers”

While I was surprised to actually see Maul onscreen, I was otherwise unsurprised he was the “phantom menace” directing the actions of Dryden Vos. Having kept up-to-date with Maul’s story-arc, and knowing his criminal dealings, it really made complete sense. That being said, following my first viewing of Solo, I could not help but ask myself: for someone who is more of a casual Star Wars fan, who is only interested in the movies, were they surprised, or perhaps even confused, to see Maul? After all, for those individuals, their experience of Darth Maul would have begun and ended with his introduction and death in The Phantom Menace.

Luckily, I was able to ask two of those “movie-only” Star Wars fans, my neighbors, when I got home from my first viewing of Solo. As I stood outside chatting with them, I asked for their thoughts and they acknowledged that they left the movie theater feeling confused by Maul’s appearance. As I explained that the Sith Lord was resurrected in The Clone Wars, and noted that his story has continued beyond that, one of my neighbors (Sara) said something which caught me off-guard: that she is less likely to watch Star Wars movies in the future if the story is just going to be changed in tv shows, books, and comics. 

While her feelings are specific to her experience, I could certainly, sympathize and understand what she was saying. While I really like Darth Maul’s post-resurrection storyline (…with the exception of his demise in Star Wars Rebels…) I can also admit that I was incredibly annoyed by his resurrection in The Clone Wars. Even though Darth Maul is only in a small amount of The Phantom Menace he was never-the-less an exceedingly important part of the story. We knew, in the film, that Maul was serving Darth Sidious, executing the machinations of his Master. While Sidious had to stay behind the scenes – he is “the phantom menace” – Darth Maul revealed himself to the Jedi as a threat they were clearly unprepared to face. And, when he is sliced-in-half by a young Obi-Wan Kenobi – making it pretty damn obvious that Maul was killed – the Jedi are left to wonder: which Sith Lord died, the Master or the Apprentice?

Maul's Death in TPM
The face of a Sith Lord who was just bisected. It’s reasonable to think he just died.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

As it turns out, neither died.

While I have since grown to appreciate Darth Maul’s post-resurrection arc, and definitely understand his cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story – knowing as I do all the nuances and baggage that goes with it – I can also understand and appreciate why my neighbor felt confused and unhappy. For her, and certainly for many others, the Star Wars films represent the pinnacle of Star Wars. For them, the movies, and only the movies, are what matter. Period. Full stop. They are uninterested in TV shows, comic books, novels, video games, precisely because Star Wars is a series of films. And, as a result, suddenly seeing a character you thought was dead – without any explanation what-so-ever regarding how he survived being cut in half – is undoubtedly annoying and off-putting. Which leads me to this:

I really believe that cameo should have been Snoke, not Darth Maul. The connections that could have been made between Solo and the Sequel Trilogy with a small cameo by Snoke would have been incredibly profound and forward-thinking, while simultaneously ensuring that movie-only fans like my neighbors were not left scratching their heads. But I will hold off on offering my “Snokey” thoughts in any greater detail for now, and you can just wait for my future post on the topic – Talkerverse: Snoke Goes Solo

Leave a comment and tell me what you think about Darth Maul, his story-arc, and his cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story. AND, be sure to check out all of my other Darth Maul posts (just put his name into the search bar). 

Talkerverse: Vader Kills Maul

I have always held the opinion that Darth Maul should have survived his confrontation with Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, and that his story-arc should have reached its finale in Episode III. Disregarding entirely that Darth Maul DOES survive, that he was resurrected from the dead in The Clone Wars animated series and has since made appearances in a number of post-Prequel stories, my belief that Maul should have been a menacing presence in every Prequel film is built upon a rather simple premise. In short, Anakin/Darth Vader should have been the one to kill Darth Maul.

Allow me to paint you a picture with my imagination brush. Darth Maul is still alive and in Revenge of the Sith, and takes full-command of the Separatist cause after the death of Count Dooku and General Grievous. Safeguarding the leaders of the Confederacy on Mustafar, a small Jedi fighter arrives on the volcanic world and Maul goes out to meet this foe. The Sith Lord instantly recognizes the individual: it is the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. We know the truth – Anakin Skywalker is no more, the man before Maul is the newly minted Sith named Vader and he has been ordered by Darth Sidious, his new Master, to kill the Separatist leaders as well as Maul. It is a test for Vader: kill your rival and take his place, or perish. Vader is up for the challenge.

Darth Maul leaps into action, his double-bladed saber viciously slashing and hacking at Vader. Deflecting the violent blows with his blue lightsaber, Vader is at first caught off-guard by the rage-filled attack. Gathering himself, anger swelling within him, the new Sith Lord goes on the offensive. Now Darth Maul staggers backwards. He has fought and killed Jedi before – Padawans, Knights, and Masters – but Maul has grown complacent throughout the Clone War. He has been such a menacing presence to Jedi that he has left his flank unguarded against a Dark Side for. Darth Sidious knew this, could see that Darth Maul was in need of a true challenger. If he survives this fight, if he kills Vader, then Maul will be a newly sharpened weapon which Sidious can use.

The battle of blades comes to a momentary pause, Maul and Vader alike unable to land a killing stroke. Starring each other down, it is Maul who  speaks first:

“I sense the darkness within you, Jedi. Tell me, has my Master chosen you to test me?”

“I am no Jedi…” Vader responds with scorn “…and he is my Master now.”

Amused and laughing, Maul replies with obvious derision: “You are naïve, young Jedi, if you believe you will replace me.”

Turning his back to Vader, Maul pauses to looks out at the hellish landscape before he speaks again. 

“Do you remember what I did to your first Master? To that fool Qui-Gon Jinn?”

Anger obviously swelling within Vader, rage contorting his face, Maul confidently continues his mocking tone:

“I should have slaughtered him sooner…on Tatooine. I should have slaughtered him…and his Padawan…and you, Ani. And then…”

Reigniting his blue blade, the rage within Vader ready to spill out, Maul speaks one last time:

“….and then I should have slaughtered Amidala.”

Both hands on the hilt of his saber, Vader launches into a vicious assault and Maul greets it head-on. The clash is unlike the choreographed acrobatics of their fight from moments before. There is no twisting of bodies or twirling of sabers. Now, their battle is purely driven by a desire to destroy the other, their blades being used not as elegant weapons but as bludgeons. Hacking and chopping, deflecting and countering, the two raged-infested Sith give no ground, take no footsteps backward. They are locked in a stalemate, unwilling to give an inch, frozen in a battle of wills against the backdrop of a volcanic, smoked-filled landscape.

Frozen, that is, until Vader finally lands a blow, slicing downward across Maul’s face and chest. Staggering backwards, scars glowing from the heat of Vader’s saber, the demonic-looking Zabrak attemps to recover but Vader moves in. Sidestepping and moving past Maul’s desperate strike, Vader reverses the direction of his saber and drives it upwards into Maul’s back, the tip coming out of the Dark Lord’s chest. Lingering for a moment, Vader yanks the blade from his foe, allowing Maul – agony and the recognition of death on his face – to sink to his knees. Turning as his blade is extinguished, Vader kneels behind Darth Maul, leans in, and softly speaks:

“You have been replaced.”

Rising, Darth Vader walks around the dying Sith Lord and, we can assume, towards the facility beyond, on his way to kill the Separatist leaders within. But the camera lingers on Maul – the landscape of Mustafar behind him – and we watch as the Sith Lord slumps forward and dies.

Killing the Devil, Replacing the Devil

There is obvious religious symbolism in Star Wars and perhaps one of the most obvious forms of symbolism is in the form of Mustafar. Essentially, Mustafar is meant to symbolize Hell. When Vader travels to the volcanic world in Revenge of the Sith, he is descending to Hell, a descent which visually captures his internal descent into darkness. While his conversion to the Sith Order took place in the ecumenopolis of Coruscant, he is baptized in this Mustafarian Hell, transformed by eternal fire and subsequently reborn in his iconic suit of armor. And yet, I have always felt one element was missing on Mustafar: the Devil.

Lava on Mustafar
Mustafar = Hell
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

There is obvious religious symbolism in Star Wars and perhaps one of the OTHER obvious forms of symbolism is Darth Maul. Darth Maul looks the way he does – horned head, red and black face, intense yellow-eyes, black robe – because he is a visual representation of evil. He looks like the Devil because he IS the Devil. And, as such, I have always believed Vader should have descended into Hell with the distinct intention of killing the Devil. While his massacre of the Separatist leaders is violent and shows that he is continuing down his dark path, the added layer of Vader killing the Devil in the Devil’s own lair would have added incredible weight to Anakin Skywalker’s descent into Darkness. 

But this added weight is not solely based on Vader’s killing a character serving as an archetype and personification of evil. Killing the Devil is certainly profound in and of itself but Vader would have also been replacing the Devil, becoming the new archetype and personification of evil. It would not have been out of goodness of heart, or a willingness to safeguard the galaxy, that he traveled into Hell to vanquish the Devil. No, he would have killed the Devil precisely because he wanted to become the Devil. Only by descending into the darkness could he make his ascension, earning his title, position, and power as Dark Lord (of the Sith) by violently ripping it away from his adversary.

That is, after all, the nature of the Sith and the Dark Side of the Force.

Epilogue

Darth Sidious steps out of the shuttle, surveying the Mustafarian landscape. He can sense Darth Vader, feel the pain and agony bleeding off of the badly injured Sith. As he moves down towards the end of the large landing platform, he passes the Jedi Starfighter which Vader had taken tot he world, and the body of Maul comes into view beyond it. Sidious walks up to the body, pauses, and looks down. Reaching out with his right hand, he uses the Force to call the double-bladed saber to him. Now in his hand, he crushes it, the broken pieces falling onto the broken body of Maul. Opening his hand and a red crystal sits on his palm. Laughing to himself, Sidious closes his fist and moves on to find his new Apprentice. 

Later, after Darth Vader has recovered, and is entombed in his suit, Sidious will hand him the crystal and give him a single order: “Construct a new lightsaber.”

No Place For Children

“War is no place for children.” – Toor Snapit, Jedi Scout

Locked in a deadly, all-or-nothing battle with the Sith Brotherhood of Darkness, the Jedi Army of Light is in need of soldiers to keep the fight going and is willing to recruit children into its ranks to do just that. This is the backdrop of Jedi vs. Sith, an Expanded Universe graphic novel written by Darko Macan which begins with young cousins embarking on an “adventure” that ends in tragedy. Hailing from the world Somov Rit, the cousins – Tomcat and Bug – are the first to be identified by the Jedi Scout Toor Snapit, himself sent to recruit force-sensitive children for the war effort. In turn, a third cousin – a young girl named Rain – is also taken by Snapit even though she has (seemingly) minimal Force-abilities.

That Toor Snapit has his doubts about taking children to war is obvious, commenting that “war is no place for children.” And yet, this doesn’t stop the elderly Jedi from taking the cousins from their home-world to battle the Sith on the planet Ruusan.  Nor, for that matter, did it stop him from taking the siblings Sladak and Slatva, twins whom the cousins meet on Snapit’s ship. The cousins (and the reader) only have but a moment with these twins, and as their vessel flies above the Ruusan landsccape, and the siblings express their excitement about their adventure, the ship is struck by Sith weaponry which kills Sladak and Slatva. Stunned, the cousins look on in horror, the excitement about their journey immediately giving way to the reality that has struck. In turn, as she screams that she “does not want to die,” the ship pivots and Rain falls through the hole in the side of the ship where the Sith had struck…

…and all Tomcat and Bug can do is look out the gaping hole with tears streaming down their eyes.

Rain's Fall 2
Tomcat (left) and Bug watch Rain fall from their transport.
Photo Credit – Jedi vs. Sith (Dark Horse Books)

Excitement and adventure are certainly themes in Jedi vs. Sith, but they are themes that highlight the naivete of children and a juvenile belief that war offers a thrilling escape from quotidian life. One can hardly fault children for this naivete, or even for the actions that they are forced to take as the story progresses, killing included. In fact, it is not long after Rain’s fall (spoiler: she survives) that Tomcat and Bug engage in their first skirmish, a skirmish which forces the children to kill a number of Sith soldiers. Neither are trained to fight, neither wears any protective armor, but they must never-the-less kill in order to survive.

Why they are killing – or rather, why they are killing Sith soldiers – is not clearly defined, though. While there is an obvious necessity in the moment to protect themselves, on a larger scale the reason the Jedi and Sith are fighting is never clearly defined. That is, it is not defined in any overarching ethical, moral, or political sense. Rather, the Army of Light commanded by Jedi Lord Hoth and the Sith Lord Kaan’s Brotherhood of Darkness are fighting because, quite frankly, that is what the Jedi and Sith do. And, in this sense, it really does not matter who holds the moral or ethical high-ground in this struggle. The Battle of Ruusan is about the Jedi vs. Sith, but which side one fights for is utterly pointless. Jedi or Sith, both sides are in the wrong because both sides are hellbent on one goal: destroying the other.

Although one could argue that the Sith do hold a sliver of ideological superiority to the Jedi. At the very least, dealing out death and destruction are what the Sith do best. After all, one can hardly fault a Sith for acting like a Sith. Then again, there is one Sith in the story who rises above all others, finding fault with his counterparts: Darth Bane. Scheming throughout the entire story, Bane is hellbent on one goal himself – not the destruction of the Jedi but the destruction of the Sith. Only after the Sith have been purged of their impurities – naemly, everyone but himself – will the Sith truly triump over their hated Jedi enemy. And, as Bane pushes Lord Kaan and the other Sith Lords towards a suicidal end, Bane will also happen upon a child on the battlefield: the girl Rain.

Rain’s Fall

That Rain is allowed to join the adventure of her cousins is shocking, a fact that is punctuated by her seemingly feeble connection to the Force but even more so by her youth. While all  three cousins are still children, Rain is the youngest and seeks to accompany Tomcat and Bug because of her childish desire to be part of the group. The Jedi Tor Snapit, having reservations about bringing children into a war zone, never-the-less acquiesces…and Rain pays the price when she falls from the transport ship.

But thankfully for her, she survives thanks to intervention of Laa, one of Ruusan’s native and sentient Bouncers. While her cousins continue on their journey guilt ridden and believing Rain fell to her death, the girl finds shelter and protection with Laa, traveling the planet with her new friend. Unaware of the deadly struggle unfolding on the world, Rain is once again saved by Laa when the Sith unleash a Force storm across the planet, burning the landscape and immolating other Bouncers in the process. Going crazy with feral rage, Bouncers which survived the destruction begin to attack Sith and Jedi alike, spreading panic among the combatants.

Rain's Fall
Rain attempts suicide but is saved by her powerful connection with the Force.
Photo Credit – Jedi vs. Sith (Dark Horse Books)

Following the devastation, as the battle on the world grows more intense, Laa – having foreknowledge of the future – tells Rain that she will become a Dark Jedi. Distraught, the child attempts suicide by jumping from a cliff, a shocking act and one that the reader can interpret as a continuation of her fall from the Jedi transport. Before her fall from the transport, Rain cries that she does not want to die. Now, confronted by Laa’s foreknowledge, Rain tells her friend that she wanted to die but changed her mind, realizing that she is incredibly strong in the Force and can destroy the Dark Jedi within her without killing herself.

Riding on Laa’s back as they seek out the Jedi, tragedy strikes when a Jedi arrow pierces her Bouncer friend, killing Laa and  sending Rain toppling to the ground (Rain’s fall is finally complete). Grief-stricken and angered by the loss of her friend, Rain unleashes her fury on the Jedi who fired the arrow, using the Force to snap his neck (and the neck of his accomplice). It is immediately after this stunning moment when Darth Bane will come across the child. Intrigued by the powerful girl who killed two Jedi, Bane will question Rain and, in turn, allows her to stay with him.

Seeds of Destruction

While Rain joins Darth Bane on his quest to destroy and reconstitute the Sith Order in his own image – imago Bane – her cousin Tomcat also joins the Sith, albeit earlier in the story. Disenfranchised by the Jedi and believing them weak, Tomcat murders the Jedi General Kiel Charny and agrees to become the apprentice of the Sith Lord Githany. In turn, this decision to join the Sith will set the stage for Tomcat’s fatal showdown with his cousin Bug.

Tomcat and Bug
Bug (blue saber) faces his cousin Tomcat (red saber).
Photo Credit – Jedi vs. Sith (Dark Horse Books)

Thus, the story comes full-circle. In the opening of the graphic novel, the adolescent rivalry of Bug and Tomcat is on display, the two engaging in normal behavior of youth jockeying to one-up the other. Now, the innocent cousin-rivalry gives way to an all-out battle of Cousin vs. Cousin – Bug vs. Tomcat – Jedi vs. Sith. 

It should never have come to this point, to a fatal moment where these opponents, once bound together in kinship, are now locked in a climactic struggle of survival and destruction. Rooted to the belief that they alone are right, the final battle between the rivals begins and ends in the only way possible: suffering and death.

Bug will die, crushed by a rock that falls upon him.

Tomcat will suffer, recognizing his errors when it is already too late to save Bug or Rain.

Rain will survive, not as an innocent young girl but as Zannah, Sith apprentice to Bane.

The cousins should have never been there to begin with. After all, the Jedi Toor Snappit was right, war is no place for children. 

Luke Skywalker: A Farewell to Arms

He hears the command the Emperor, the Sith named Sidious. The Dark Lord tells Luke Skywalker to “fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side.” Young Skywalker, having battled Darth Vader, his father, had finally bested his foe. His “hatred made [him] powerful” and he had unleashed a dark-filled fury against his father, swinging and hacking with his self-crafted green lightsaber until a blow was finally dealt. Vader’s right hand severed, the father of Luke Skywalker lays prostrate, weaponless, and entirely at the mercy of his son.

Luke hears the Emperor’s command, he listens, but his disposition changes. Something within him stirs, a recognition we can see on his face. He is aware that he is on a precipice of falling into a never-ending chasm of darkness (it is little wonder the battle ended with Vader and Luke above an actual chasm, a clear metaphor if ever there was one). In this instance, looking down at the mechanical stump where he severed his father’s hand – and looking at his own mechanical hand, a result of an injury Vader exacted on him a year before – Luke makes his choice.

Turning towards the Emperor, Luke Skywalker will confidently declare to Darth Sidious that “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” But his words are only a part of this pronouncement, the exclamation point actually coming before he speaks when he willingly disarms himself, tossing away his lightsaber, the “elegant” weapon of a Jedi Knight. This is Luke’s active commitment to the Jedi, a practical statement of faith declaring his dedication to “peace and justice,” to “knowledge and defense, never attack.” It is the zenith of Luke’s story in the Original Trilogy, his narrative trajectory taking him from farm-boy on the desolate world of Tatooine in A New Hope to this decisive moment in Return of the Jedi as he stands in the Emperor’s throne room. 

Skywalker’s intentional disarmament is, in a sense, his Arthurian moment, or rather his reverse-Arthurian moment. While the legendary King Arthur inherited Britain’s throne by pulling a sword from a stone, Luke inherits the title of Jedi Knight not by grasping and brandishing his weapon but doing the exact opposite, ridding himself of it. With this simple but profound action Luke Skywalker fundamentally changes what it means to be a member of the Jedi Order and elevates heroism to an even greater level, a level which requires traversing a path of nonviolence, compassion, and mercy (even for one’s enemies). 

As a child I may not have been able to fully appreciate what Luke does in Return of the Jedi but today I am profoundly moved by Skywalker’s heroic choice. It is a stark reminder to me – and perhaps to you as well – that a farewell to arms is necessary in the pursuit of peace. Even when faced with our enemies and the possibility of death we must set aside our weapons of war with a willingness to sacrifice our lives out of love and not hatred. In this way, I interpret Luke’s act through the lens of Matthew 26:52 where Jesus tells a companion to “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (NIV). Living by the sword, even a lightsaber, is no longer appropriate for a Jedi Knight; now, the only option is to walk the path of peace and justice fortified and armed with the Light Side of the Force. 

Haikuesday: Darth Vader

Prophecy. Chosen.
Slave to Fate. Destined to Hate.
Dark Lord. Sith. Vader.

The Temple attacked.
Younglings hide. Vader enters.
Do what must be done.

Descent into Hell,
Mustafar, where He will be
baptized by fire.

Body burned, broken.
Pain fuels His rage, His hatred.
He is still alive.

The crash of thunder.
A dead man Reborn, entombed
in armor of black.

More machine than man.
Is there good in this monster?
Pain. Rage. Darkness. Shame.

“Shame is worse than death” 
Shame embodies, inhabits Him.
Shame is Pain, is Hate.

Kooyanisqatsi.
Under a Dark facade lives
an unbalanced soul.

To balance the Force.
No, to defeat His Master.
He must be balanced.

Submerged in hatred,
swallowed by the Dark abyss,
chains will be broken.

Darth Vader, like Fate –
immanis et inanis,
monstrous and empty.

A desolate world,
Malachor, there He will break
a chain: Ahsoka.

Out of the Darkness
a red blade ignites, the Lord
of Death is revealed.

A man screams for help.
From Death, from Dark Lord Vader,
there is no escape.

With graceful malice
the Dark Lord grants death to all
who might oppose Him.

A black clad figure
emerges from the smoke and
walks among the dead.

Lacking faith in Him
irritates Him, disturbs Him.
Lack faith, invite death.

Padmé, she lacked faith.
She brought Obi-Wan to Him.
She invited death.

Entering a cell.
Within, a young woman waits…
…waits for His torture.

Red blade ignited.
Vader stands ready to break
a chain: Kenobi.

The Death Star destroyed.
Failure, another failure.
His Master, displeased.

Searching for the truth,
the truth about the pilot.
The truth: it’s His son.

Clumsy and stupid
Admiral Ozzel receives the
Dark Lord’s gift of death.

“What is thy bidding?”
Kneeling before his Master…
…when will Vader strike?

Apologizing
to Lord Vader, Needa is
forgiven with death.

Battle in the clouds.
Over a chasm, Vader
maims His foe: His son.

“I am your Father.”
“Search your feelings, you know it
to be true.” “Join Me.”

Vader’s forgiveness,
more gracious than His Master.
Jerjerrod takes note.

Twisted and evil.
Is there good in this monster?
His Son believes so.

In a Star of Death
the Father and Son battle.
A clash of titans.

Thoughts betray His Son,
He can sense the boy’s Fear for
a twin, a Sister.

A thought arises:
If the boy will not join Him
then perhaps SHE will…

A wave of hatred.
A swift and violent attack.
Son maims the Father.

His Master joyful,
tells His Son to strike Him down.
But His Son resists.

His Son, a Jedi.
His Master strikes, His Son screams.
Vader knows that sound.

Rise. Stand. Watch. Hear. Feel.
His Son in pain, pleads for help.
He knows pain, lives pain.

Pain. Rage. Hate. Shame. Love.
Emotions invade His mind.
The moment has come.

His Master is strong,
but He has become stronger.
Apprentice no more.

Last Rites in Lightning,
Darth Vader, Lord of Death, dies.
A Jedi Returns.

Worshiped, revered by
Raiders, Dark Acolytes, Knights.
Vader, a Dark God.

The pull to the Light
threatens to overwhelm Ben,
Darth Vader’s grandson.

Knight of Ren: Kylo.
Another life unbalanced.
Kooyanisqatsi.


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

The Sith Temple on Malachor

“Two must lift these stones, no more, no less. That is the way of the Sith.” – Maul

In the Season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels – “Twilight of the Apprentice” – Kanan Jarrus, Ezra Bridger, and Ahsoka Tano travel to the planet Malachor in order to gain knowledge which will help them defeat the Sith and Inquisitors. As we discover in the episode, Malachor was a planet of legend among the Jedi, a world off-limits to members of the Order. And rightfully so. Arriving on the planet, the three companions discover an ancient Sith Temple hidden on the planet, along with the scorched remains of bodies and discarded lightsabers scattered among the ruins, signs of The Great Scourge of Malachor, a historic battle between the Jedi and Sith. Taking place thousands of years in the past, The Great Scourge of Malachor was first named in The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary, a small snippet in the reference book explaining that Kylo Ren’s unique, cross-guard lightsaber hails from the time period of the forgotten and catastrophic fight. And, as luck would have it, Bridger finds and briefly ignites one such lightsaber as he scours the desolate ruins.

As someone who has always been deeply fascinated by the Sith and the Dark Side, not to mention all things relating to ancient history in the Star Wars universe, “Twilight of the  Apprentice” really struck a cord with me. In turn, the more I have watched this episode, the more curious I have become by the fact that the Sith Rule of Two is a subtle, but central, aspect of the Temple structure. One will recall that the Rule, enacted by Darth Bane, holds that there can only be two Sith at a time: a Master and an Apprentice. As we learn early on in “Twilight” from Maul, himself a former Sith Lord, the Temple is bound to this central Sith philosophy. Relying on a far-to-trusting Ezra Bridger, Maul is able to open the doors of the Temple with the teen’s eager assistance. Maul could not do it alone, rather he needed a second – an “Apprentice” – to work with him. Later, the “elevators” that carry individuals to the higher recesses of the Temple are also bound to the Rule, two and only two being needed/allowed for the lifts to work. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when the Sith Holocron that plays a central role in “Twilight” activates the Temple (we discover, as does Bridger, that the Temple is a massive superweapon), Ezra is only able to pull the Holocron away from the (for lack of better terms) “activation spot” when he recalls that he cannot do it alone. With the help of Kanan Jarrus, the two are able to pull the Holocron away, shutting down the Temple structure before the weapon can be used by Maul.

On the surface of things, the use of the Rule of Two in the episode is not very surprising. In an episode of Rebels that was a bit chaotic – not in a negative way, just in the sense that a lot happens in a short amount of time – the Rule of Two otherwise blended into the background, playing an important role at critical junctures while not being a central aspect of the show. Since Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader have their long-anticipated showdown in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” it is hardly surprising that the use of the Rule of Two is ultimately an unremarkable afterthought in the episode. Still, during my first and subsequent viewings of “Twilight,” I have continue to be utterly perplexed by the Rule’s appearance in the episode because the Sith Temple on Malachor really should not be tied to the Rule for one very simple reason: the Rule of Two was not enacted until long after the Temple was built.

Ezra and Maul
Maul (left) and Ezra Bridger (right) walk towards an entrance to the Sith Temple on Malachor.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Rebels Season 2, Episodes 21-22: “Twilight of the Apprentice”

As I already mentioned, it is (former Darth) Maul who, early in the episode, describes this central philosophy of the Sith Order and its connection to the Temple. Maul states to Bridger, “Two must lift these stones, no more, no less. That is the way of the Sith.” While Maul is not incorrect in noting that the Sith are guided by the Rule, but again, the Rule went into effect thousands of years after the Temple was constructed. So where does this leave us? How do we make sense out of a seemingly obvious canonical contradiction in “Twilight of the Apprentice”?  I have wrestled with this for some time, allowing possible explanations for this curious connection between the Temple and the Rule to bubble up in my mind. That being the case, I have come up with a handful of possible explanations that I have decided to share…

Possible Explanations (The Operative Word being “Possible”)

Possibility #1: Darth Bane did not create the Rule of Two, instead he adopted a concept that dates back, at the very least, to the time when Sith Temple on Malachor was constructed. In other-words, as Bane sought to change the Sith Order so that it would survive, he went in search of knowledge from the ancient Dark Lords such as the female Sith who built the Temple on Malachor. Finding that Sith Lords like her and others believed a “Master-Apprentice” relationship created the strongest connection to the Dark Side (one to hold the power, the other to crave it), these ancient Sith tied the workings of their own Temples, Holocrons, Rituals, etc. to their own de facto “Rule of Two.” 

Possibility # 2: Darth Bane actually lived long before the Sith Temple was constructed. The idea that Bane lived in the very distant past is actually something I suggest in another post for a separate reason (you can check it out HERE). Basically, this possibility opens the way for the Rule of Two to have been implemented before the Temple on Malachor was constructed, thereby ensuring that the Temple would be tied to the Rule. 

Possibility # 3: When Sith Philosophy changes, such as when Darth Bane enacted the Rule, everything about the Sith changes. Admittedly, this is a rather odd possiblity as it would require some very deep, metaphysical connection between the Sith and their artifacts. This is not necessarily outside the realm of possibility, after-all we know that Darth Sidious could use the Dark Side across great galactic distances. However, I am unsure exactly how, when Darth Bane enacted the Rule of Two, this would also change the structural operations of the Sith Temple on Malachor. Would/Could Bane simply engage in some type of ritual to unify all things Sith to his Rule? Maybe? Perhaps? I dunno. It is an interesting idea but also an unnecessarily complex one that could get confusing really fast.

Possibility # 4: This is just a straight-up error on the part of the Star Wars Rebel show-runners and/or Lucasfilm Story Group. While my inclination is not to lay blame on those who work for Lucasfilm and know far more about the Star Wars universe than myself, I cannot help but wonder if the Rule of Two found its way into “Twilight of the Apprentice” without much forethought. I absolutely do not think tying the Rule to the Temple structure was nefarious or purposefully misleading. Rather, since the Rule of Two plays such a central role in Star Wars lore involving the Sith, the Rule of Two was probably just an easy tool the show-runners could utilize in the episode, especially using it with Maul as he manipulates Ezra. In fact, on this point…

Possibility # 5: …it might be that the Temple is not actually tied to the Rule of Two, or any de facto “Rule of Two.” Perhaps Maul is just lying to Bridger when he says “two must lift these stones,” doing so to convince Ezra to trust him and, more importantly, to work in tandem with him.  If so, then the use of the Rule of Two in the episode may not be a mistake. Instead, it could be an intentional plot device that allows Maul to lie his way into Ezra’s trust. Then again, even if it isn’t intentional – if the show-runners/Story Group did, in fact, make an error – I think the possibility that Maul is lying to Ezra could still work. 

And there you have it. Five possibilities that could explain why the Rule of Two is tied to the Sith Temple on Malachor. If you can think of any possibilities or ideas of your own, or if you want to offer your thoughts on my own explanations, leave a comment!

 

Transcending Death: The Light

In a recent post – Cheating Death: The Dark – I discussed the hate-filled path Darth Maul traversed in order to survive his horrific wounding in The Phantom Menace. If you have not read the post, or want to refresh your memory, I would encourage you to do so. In this piece I do a 180, flipping the conversation from cheating death to transcending death in order to consider how a Light Sider user can, if they are chosen and deemed worthy, preserve their conscious identity (and bodily form) in the netherworld of the Force. 

As I point out in Cheating Death, the Sith and the Jedi share in having dynamic but also limited understandings of the Force. Just as Darth Maul could not dream of the level of Darkness he would reach in his state of intense hatred, the Jedi also lack full comprehension of what the Light Side offers regarding death. This is not a criticism of the Jedi, though. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that the religious orders in Star Wars – Sith, Jedi, Knights of Ren, Nightsisters, and so on – do not have 100% complete conceptual understandings of the Force. Ultimately, the religious orders believe about the Force is centered around their specific experience of it and, as a result, their respective dogmas directly reflect this experiential knowledge.

A perfect example of the Jedi Order’s limit is the skepticism – nay, the outright denial – that one can preserve their individuality after death. In The Clone Wars Season Six episode “Voices,” Anakin Skywalker describes the Order’s dogma on the subject of life after death quite poignantly when he states, “…everything that we know about the Force tells us that an individual retaining their identity after death is impossible.” To this we can also add Jedi Master Ki-Adi Mundi, ranking member of the Jedi Council, who notes “…the dead are part of the Cosmic Force and lose their individuality.” Even Master Yoda, the oldest/wisest of the Jedi and head of the Council, does not at first believe in the possibility of maintaining one’s individuality after death, expressing his own skepticism when he hears the voice of dead Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Nevertheless, Yoda will come to realize that Master Jinn is speaking to him, opening himself to a possibility he thought impossible. In turn, guided by Qui-Gon, Yoda will begin his own journey towards transcendence.

The journey, though, is not an easy one. Yoda, we find in the last few episodes of The Clone Wars series (starting with “Voices”), must face significant trials to show that he is worthy of retaining his individuality after death. In other words, the great gift of transcendence is not liberally given to all Light Side users. While Jedi Masters such as Mace Windu, Plo Koon, Shaak Ti, and Ki-Adi Mundi are incredibly wise and act with good intentions, they nevertheless are not presented with the possibility of transcendence.

On the other hand, Yoda is chosen to receive the great gift, chosen because he will “teach one who will save the universe from the great imbalance.” Still, even Yoda must be put to the test, and in the episodes “Destiny” and “Sacrifice” he is forced to master himself – his own darkness, hubris, and temptations – in order to prove that he can master transcendence. It is only after passing these difficult tests, coming into a fuller understanding of his own identity and his connection with the Light Side of the Force, that Yoda will begin a long process of training through which he will learn to manifest consciousness after death.

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Yoda is confronted by his own inner Dark Side and hubris.
Photo Credit: The Clone Wars Season 6, Episode, Episode 12 – “Destiny”

Although we are given a fleeting glimpse of this training in The Clone Wars, the training Yoda receives has otherwise never been fully explored – either shown nor described – in any Star Wars stories. The same is also true for Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom we also know is granted this gift of transcendence. While Yoda explains, at the end of Revenge of the Sith, that Qui-Gon Jinn will be Kenobi’s guide in the process, we are not privy to the tests or lessons Kenobi will learn from his former Master.

Yet, all of this is okay. The Force is mysterious, and some of the sacred teachings, artifacts, and rituals that go hand-in-hand with it should be equally mysterious. Just as Sith and Jedi alike are not privy to every aspect of the Force, the same is also the case for fans of Star Wars. In fact, I would suggest that the training Yoda and Obi-Wan receive never be fully explored, lest we water down the sacred mystery of transcendence through over-explanation or take away from each fan’s imagination. Besides, what we do know is that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi did learn to manifest consciousness after death, proof that their training, whatever it entailed, was successful.

But while Yoda and Kenobi completed their mysterious training, we also know that Qui-Gon Jinn did not. In “Voices,” Master Jinn explains that he was killed before his training was complete, before he had fully learned to manifest his individuality after death. While his concious identity was preserved at death, enabling him to speak from the beyond as a manifestation of the Force, Qui-Gon is unable to appear in bodily form to those who are still alive. As we are well aware, appearing in bodily form to the living is something which both Kenobi and Yoda are able to do. This is precisely because their bodies quite literally disappeared when “death” arrived, transported along with their consciousness to the netherworld of the Force. Thus, the pinnacle of one’s training, the pinnacle of transcendance, is the capacity to “exist where there is no future or no past” in both mind and body.  

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Obi-Wan Kenobi’s body disappears as he is struck down by Darth Vader.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

On this last point, it is worth mentioning that what existence is like for Qui-Gon, Kenobi, and Yoda in the netherworld of the Force is outside of the realm of comprehension. There are simply no words – not here or in any Star Wars story – that can capture what it truly means to exist once one has reached transcendence. Certainly finite language can be used to give hints; after all, even Buddhists understand that all suffering will cease once Nirvana has been reached. But what transcendence actually feels like on a subjective level, what existence means for one who now inhabits the netherworld of the Force, that can only be known to the individual whom has entered the new state of being. And because of this, I hope the existence which Qui-Gon, Kenobi and Yoda achieve is kept a mystery to other characters in the saga as well as fans.

Cheating Death: The Dark

When Darth Maul’s return was first flirted in Season 3 of The Clone Wars animated series, I was pretty skeptical. At the time, I thought it was a ridiculous stunt to bring back to life a character who had been sliced in half, his bifurcated body having fallen into an abyss in The Phantom Menace. Yet, the way Maul’s return was handled grew on me, and over time I not only accepted that he was still alive – something I could not argue since  he was literally on screen  – but that the way he was brought back was handled with care. While I certainly have my grievances with some of the story-arcs in Star Wars, Darth Maul’s return eventually became, and still is, one of my favorites.

As I said in a recent post where I discussed Maul’s return – The Power to Cheat Death – the fact that the young Dark Lord of the Sith survived his injuries opened the door to rethinking a number of aspects of the Star Wars universe. In keeping with this stream of thought, for this post I wanted to think about how Maul survived, the way he was able to sustain his life even though he had been horribly injured. 

Long before Darth Maul even arrived in person in The Clone Wars, questions began floating about how he could have survived his horrific injury. Thankfully, this was a question that was answered rather early on in Maul’s story-arc. In the Season Four episode “Revenge” – literally the episode that follows his re-discovery – Maul explains that while his body was broken, his hatred kept his spirit intact. Submerged in darkness, Maul became a self-described “rabid animal,” surviving on the junk world Lotho Minor until many years later his brother, Savage Opress, discovered him.

While his description of survival is brief, what Maul explains in “Revenge” is an intrinsic and fascinating aspect of the Dark Side of the Force.  Bathed in his hatred – hatred towards Kenobi, the Jedi, his old Master, etc. – Maul found himself consumed by the Dark Side in a way he had never prepared to encounter. In this regard, Maul’s survival was purely accidental. While he should have died due to his injuries, the Dark Side of the Force sustained his spirit – the Living Force within him – because Maul instinctively, although inadvertently, tapped into an intense and visceral level of hatred welling within his being. But the consequences of this deep level of hate and Dark Side submersion are clear: in cheating death, Maul lost all sense of his individuality, of “humanity,” becoming a wild animal.

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Darth Maul, physically and mentally broken, living as a rabid animal on Lotho Minor. Notice that he is quite literally a beast, his mechanical “body” resembling that of an arachnid.

Photo Credit: The Clone Wars Season 4, Episode 21 – “Brothers”

With this in mind, it is worth recalling one of the most iconic and profound quotes about the Dark Side in Star Wars, a quote found in Revenge of the Sith. Speaking to Anakin Skywalker, Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) describes the Dark Side of the Force “as a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” Darth Maul’s survival is a perfect example of one of the most unnatural abilities swirling within the Dark Side, the ability to cheat death. There is nothing natural about Maul’s survival, about the ability for one to physically cheat death. After all, as Yoda also states in Revenge of the Sith, “death is a natural part of life.” That all life must die is normal, a consequence of the gift of life. To cheat death is unnatural, a subversion of the gift.

Yet, as Maul proves through his hate-filled survival, the ability to subvert, to undermine, the gift of life is inherent within the Dark Side of Force. And since it is life which creates the Force – as Yoda also eloquently states, this time in The Empire Strikes Back – and it is also true that death is a natural part of life, how are we to make sense of this dark ability to cheat physical death?

Regarding this question, I would suggest two things. First, just because life creates the Force does not mean life necessarily dictates or creates the powers/abilities inherent within the Cosmic Force. In turn, this leads to my second point: that the Dark Side and Light Side of the Force are rich with powers/abilities that go far beyond the rationale understanding and capabilities of the Sith, Jedi, and other religious orders devoted to the mystical energy field. When Maul says that his path was”darker than I ever dreamed it could be,” this is precisely what he is pointing towards – the fact that there is a level of Dark Side potential he never could have rationalized or imagined, a level he only could only experienced by tapping into a well-spring of raw, unadulterated hatred. And, as we know, ill-prepared to reach this exceptional level of Darkness, Maul lost all sense of individuality, becoming more animal than “man.”

On this last point, another question arises: could one tap into and sustain the same level of hatred as Maul, preserving their corporeal existence through the Dark Side, while also maintaining their sanity and identity? To this I would answer yes, but to do so would require years of intense and methodical training. Just as one must first learn to swim before diving into the deep end of a pool, so too must a Sith, Knight of Ren, or other type of Dark acolyte learn to wade into the darkness if they are to cheat death, prolonging bodily existence and mental stability. While it is necessary to give into and cultivate the hatred that will take one deeper into the dark abyss and unlock the incredible powers inherent within, it is equally necessary that one exercise intense control over this hatred lest it completely strip them of rational thought.

Furthermore, in answering this question, I would also go one step farther and suggest that Darth Sidious was already treading the dark path towards cheating death. In the novel Tarkin, Sidious hints at coaxing the “final secrets” from the dark side and considers that “success would grant them [he and Darth Vader] the power to harness the full powers of the dark side, and allow them to rule for ten thousand years.” While he does not explicitly state the intention to cheat death, the sentiment is nevertheless implied in his wish to rule for ten thousand years. As Sith believe there is nothingness after death – a philosophical point raised in The Clone Wars episode “Sacrifice” – the only way Sidious could rule indefinitely is if he was to preserve his Life Force in his body, utilizing the Dark Side to forgo death and extinction.

And since Sidious was training to do just that, steadily submerging himself deeper into the darkness in order to unlock the unnatural powers it contained, I cannot help but wonder if he – like Darth Maul before him – was able to survive his “death” in Return of the Jedi. A thought worth pondering, but one I will leave for another day.

Trailers for The Old Republic

While I have only played The Old Republic MMO sporadically, I have never-the-less been stunned by the incredible cinematic trailers that have accompanied the game. So, I decided to collect them all into one spot so people could watch them without needing to do much searching. Enjoy!


The Power to Cheat Death

When we first watched The Phantom Menace and witnessed Darth Maul being sliced in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was safe to assume that the young Dark Lord had been killed. Yet, as we discovered in The Clone Wars animated series, Maul miraculously survived his horrific bifurcation. Confiding in his training and anger, Maul drew upon the Dark Side of the Force to preserve what remained of him. Though his injuries took a physical and mental toll on him, he was able to cling to life and eventually found himself on the junk world of Lotho Minor. It was on the trash-filled planet where his brother, Savage Oppress, would re-discover Darth Maul. Taking the disheveled and mentally unstable Zabrak with him, Oppress returned Maul to Mother Talzin, a Dathomiri Witch who is, we discover much later, Maul’s mother. In turn, using her dark magic, Mother Talzin restored the one-time Dark Lord to his terrifying form, healing his mental anguish and providing him with new, mechanical legs.

Darth Maul’s return in The Clone Wars opened up a rich avenue of story-telling that has since extended into comic-book form (Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir), another animated series (Star Wars Rebels), and a new novel (Ahsoka). But his return also created intriguing ways of thinking about some of the lore and themes in Star Wars. For example, in a previous post from many moons ago – The Last Sith Lord – I speculated on the possibility that it is Maul, and not Vader or Sidious, who is the very last Dark Lord of the Sith (you can read that piece to see what I had to say). And in this post, I wanted to do something similar, this time considering how Maul’s re-emergence in The Clone Wars forces us to think more deeply about the concept of “cheating death,” a critical theme in Revenge of the Sith and the Prequel Trilogy.

For me, one of the most fascinating bits of lore added in Revenge of the Sith is the Tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise. Recounting the tale to Anakin Skywalker, Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) explains that,”Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise, he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” Of course, Palpatine also points out that Plagueis’ apprentice (surprise, it was Sidious!) killed the powerful Sith Lord in his sleep, noting the irony that “He could save others from death, but not himself.”

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Chancellor Palpatine recounts the Tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

With the Tale planted in Skywalker’s mind, it is little surprise that later in the film, when Anakin pledges himself to the teachings of Darth Sidious, he begs the Dark Lord of the Sith to help him save Padmé’s life. One will recall that young Skywalker was having premonitions about his wife’s impending death, visions of her suffering as she dies in child birth. And, in response to Anakin’s plea, Sidious remarks that “To cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but, if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.”

Now, it’s obvious that Sidious’ statement – “to cheat death is a power only one has achieved” –  is a reference to Darth Plagueis. However, it’s also true that Darth Maul was able to cheat death. Plagueis could keep others from dying, Maul was able to keep himself from dying. This being the case, it begs the question: is it possible to reinterpret Sidious’ statement to suggest he was talking about Darth Maul and not Darth Plagueis?

This question has rattled around in my brain for some time, although truthfully it is a difficult one to answer in the affirmative. Sidious’ intention when he says this line is pretty straight-forward: to manipulate Anakin into accepting Sidious as his new Master. Since Sidious seems interested in helping Anakin discover the power to cheat death – all for the sake of saving Padmé – it makes sense that young Skywalker would pledge himself to the Dark Lord. Along these lines, it is also worth remembering that after Anakin lost his mother in Attack of the Clones, he vehemently declares that he will become so powerful he will “learn how to stop people from dying.” Given Skywalker’s intense desire to keep his loved ones from death, it is no wonder that 1) Palpatine told Anakin the Tale of Darth Plagueis and; 2) that he offered to help the young man discover the secret to cheating death.

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Anakin pledges himself to Darth Sidious.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

None of this is to suggest, of course, that Darth Sidious and Anakin were ignorant that Darth Maul cheated death; both are well-aware the Sith survived his injuries and is still very much alive. But due to the context of this scene – embedded, as it is, in the Revenge of the Sith and the Prequel Trilogy – I find it unlikely that Sidious was referring to Darth Maul and not Darth Plagueis. Because Skywalker’s motivation is to save others from death – a power he was told Plagueis possessed – there is really no reason to imagine Darth Maul is at the forefront of his mind (or Sidious’) in the scene.

Nevertheless, I am still open to and intrigued by the possibility that Sidious was thinking of/referring to Darth Maul when he says “to cheat death is a power only one has achieved.” But I am not going to force the issue, in part because I have a lot of other things to say about cheating death and will be doing more posts on the topic. If, someday, a light turns on in my head and I figure out a way to make it work then I will be sure to share it with y’all. Otherwise, perhaps one of you will find a way to work it out in the meantime. 


More posts on the topic of cheating death:

Cheating Death: The Dark

Transcending Death: The Light