How a Star Wars novel got me back into SWTOR

I’m not one of those people who roots for villains in media. I’ve always found it to be a little disturbing when people do. Why would you want the evil, mass murdering bad guy to win? What does that say about your own personality? But there is one bad guy that I do really like (and he’s the only one that I can think of) and that is Thrawn from the Star Wars universe. He never graced the big screen, but he was so much more interesting than any of the villains who did, because, rather than being a Sith, whose only aspiration is to amass and hold personal power through fear, manipulation, and coercion, Thrawn is a master military strategist. His specialty is getting inside the minds of his opponents by studying their culture, especially their art, and using that information to extrapolate what they will do in a battle. Implausible? Sure, but no more than any other sci-fi/sci-fantasy villain trope. There’s something interesting about a villain who is just smarter than everyone else in the galaxy, who has an intuitive understanding of how people think. He can beat force-users, not by overpowering them as so many Star Wars villains try to do, but by outmaneuvering them. He conquers, not because he wants to sit, dragon-like, on the horde of all the power and glory he has amassed, but because he enjoys the challenge. It’s all a chess game to him.

I read Timothy Zahn’s original 1990s Thrawn trilogy some years ago (long after it came out, but well before the Disney buyout) and, more recently, I’ve been reading Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (I somehow missed the first new canon Thrawn trilogy, but I will definitely have to circle back around after I’m done with Ascendency). I’m sure many authors look back at their older works and ponder what they would have done differently, but it must be an interesting and unique opportunity for Zahn to get the chance to rewrite the history of one of his most beloved characters within a whole new canon. I’ve been loving Ascendency because it’s the story of how the Republic made contact with the Chiss Ascendency from the Chiss point of view. The first book is almost over before the Republic, the Jedi, or the Force (by that name) are even mentioned. Most of this book is establishing lore about Chiss culture, and I’m lapping it up. I imagine some readers might find it tedious, since it’s very disconnected from the greater Star Wars universe, even though you know it’s going to get there sooner or later, but personally, I’m in no hurry to get back to boring old Anakin being in the spotlight again. 

Of course, with all of this talk of the Chiss, I wanted to role play as one, so to Star Wars: The Old Repbulic I went. I rolled a new Chiss Assassin. In Legends canon, which SWTOR is still a part of, Chiss hold a societal stigma against Force sensitives, so those individuals suppress their abilities with drugs or face exile. As a Chiss force user, my character has faced a lot of trauma: She was told she was an embarrassment to her family, then sold into slavery to the Sith, who want to train her as a weapon of war. Despite all of this, she maintains a light side alignment, because all she wants is to find peace and serenity in a galaxy of chaos and conflict. While most Sith thrive on violence, she avoids it wherever possible, because she has found that she is most connected to the Force when she feels calm, and killing disrupts that calm more than anything. Being raised in the Ascendancy and the Sith Empire, she doesn’t know much about the Jedi way, she just knows that the Sith philosophy is wrong, but is trapped inside their system. Maybe if she plays the system long enough, she can escape and pursue inner peace? But at what cost?

I love that this game encourages mental role play the way it does. The game forces none of this on me, except that I was a Force sensitive slave who worked her way up through the ranks, and even that is easily ignored if you have a different backstory in mind. I’ve never role played this with any other players, and to be honest I’m not really that interested in doing so (especially on the Empire side; a lot of the roleplay that happens there is not something I want to be associated with), it’s all just the mental story I’m writing within the bounds of the game. It’s frustrating when the three options you’re given don’t include what you imagine your character saying, but that doesn’t stop me from mentally inserting my own dialogue. Star Wars lore is so rich and deep that it’s fun to imagine different characters with different alignments and take them through even stories you’ve played before. This is the same story as it was the last time I did this on my Sorc (also a Chiss, incidentally; my character roster is like 50% Chiss), but she was kind of a neutral dark side, not cruel for cruelty’s sake, just selfishly doing whatever she can to climb the Sith political ladder. Yet, even though the events are the same, it feels very different because my character is so different. 

To be fair, not all class stories are so flexible; if you come up with a good enough justification, you can easily play a light side Sith, but a dark side Trooper just goes around committing war crimes left and right and gets nothing worse than a stern look from General Garza. I never said the game was perfect, just fun.