“There’s good in him. I know… I know there’s still…” “There is still good in him.” “I’ve got to save you.”
It’s not a stretch to say that redemption is a main theme of the Star Wars films and neither is it a stretch to say that the same theme continued through the Expanded Universe. The story of someone’s fall to the dark and eventual redemption to the light has been repeated countless times throughout. This is, afterall, a franchise built upon the story of the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker.
So why, in recent years, have we seen stories go against this?
I’m talking, of course, about Jacen Solo and also Vestara Khai. How did we get to a point in the Star Wars universe where Luke Skywalker, Dark Side Redeemer Extraordinaire, isn’t consistently giving it his all to try and bring back his nephew or a young girl from the dark side? But before we get there, let’s look back at redemption throughout the rest of the Star Wars Saga.
From the very start of the Expanded Universe with the Bantam Era, we saw a strong emphasis on redemption. After all, Luke Skywalker had just successfully redeemed his father. This was a man who could see the good or even just the potential for good in everyone and for the next fifteen years in canon, he essentially sets out to bring everyone he possibly can back to the light side. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes he doesn’t. From Dev in Truce at Bakura to the Witches and Nightsisters of Dathomir to Mara in the Thrawn books to a large chunk of the inaugural Jedi Academy class, we’d be here for ages if we named everyone. Frequently, these turned out to be characters who went on to make a lasting impact on the Star Wars universe. Just think about how different things would be if Mara had continued to side with the Empire or if Kyp Durron had stayed a pupil of Exar Kun. The point is that Luke was always willing to at least try.
The theme of redemption continued on with the next generation. When Zekk was lured to the Second Imperium and the dark side in the Young Jedi Knights books, Jaina and Jacen never gave up on the belief that they could save their friend. And hey surprise! Zekk did end up coming back from the dark side, taking some time to work through his personal issues, and then going on to become a contributing member of the Jedi Order. Several years down the line, Jaina has a brush with the dark side herself. Instead of just leaving her to it, Kyp draws from his own experiences and helps nudge her back towards the light. While it’s not quite the same dramatic redemption that many other characters have gone through, she’s nonetheless not left to her own dark side devices at the end of the day. She pulls back from the dark side and becomes stronger for it.
Redemption continues to be a theme throughout all of Star Wars history and is hardly limited to the post-Return of the Jedi timeline even if that’s where it is most prevalent. The Knights of the Old Republic video game is built upon the idea of redemption and choices. The game is, as I’ve noted before, incredibly true to all of the themes and the very nature of the Star Wars films. Redemption from the dark side is key during gameplay. For example, you hardly receive any XP for killing Juhani on Dantooine as opposed to all the bonuses you receive for talking her back to the light side and you even get another traveling companion. When you’re playing as a light sider which is the canon ending, you also have to redeem the fallen Bastila Shan at the end. (Again, you can kill her instead but it’s less rewarding.) To top all of this off, the theme of redemption becomes blatantly obvious when you look at your own character. Revan fell to the dark side, was memory wiped by the Jedi Council, and then essentially received a tabula rasa. From there, Revan’s choices result in her not only staying on the light side but also saving the galaxy. Much like the films, it’s all about the redemption of the fallen hero. Revan’s story just has a much happier ending than Anakin’s. (For the game at least. We’re not touching what happens after KOTOR 1 ends.)
The Prequel Trilogy novels also saw their fair share of redemption. The best example would be Yoda: Dark Rendezvous which works as a character study for not only Yoda but Count Dooku. Yoda knows that Dooku’s message of wishing to come back to the light is insincere. He knows this and yet he takes a chance and risks his life on a mission to go meet his former pupil and try and bring him back to the light side because he thinks that Dooku actually might subconsciously want to return. “When you fall, be there to catch you, I will.” It’s a promise to a student to always be there and not a promise to reject him simply because he falls.
The idea of redemption isn’t limited to just Force users. (Stop reading here if you have yet to finish reading Kenobi.) In John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi, we have the juxtaposition of Orrin Gault and Jabe Calwell. The Gault family is involved in the unsavory practice of faking Sand People attacks in order to scare people into joining the Settler’s Fund which was a bit of a scam as Orrin used much of those funds to try and pay off his own debt to Jabba the Hutt. Like most teenagers rebelling against their mothers would, Jabe ends up getting drawn into the fake attack scheme and starts heading down the path of not being a good person. When Obi-Wan Kenobi learns of what’s going on, his reaction is not to wipe out the “evil” with his lightsaber. Instead, he takes another approach. Both men are presented with a choice: turn back now. Jabe takes it and Orrin doesn’t. As a result, Jabe gets to start on the path of a good life and Orrin gets to experience his own personal hell.
Of course, there are always those who simply cannot be redeemed or else who choose not to. Harking back to the Bantam Era again, you have characters like Gantoris whose arrogance combined with Exan Kun’s influence burns away any chance he had to come back to the lightside. There are also characters like Brakiss, one of Luke’s failed students, and some of the Nightsisters of Dathomir who simply refuse to look at things any other way. There are also plenty of dark side and Sith characters who our heroes end up having to kill when there is no choice left. Emperor Palpatine easily jumps to mind as a good example here. On another died-a-Sith note, we have Count Dooku. He was a former Jedi who left the Order not with the intent to fall to the dark side but rather because he was disgruntled with the decisions made by the Council. Dooku is an excellent example of a character who ended up on the dark side because of a series of choices and as an example of a character who was never truly given the option of redemption towards the end because that was never an option when the Sith Master is manipulating another into disarming and then killing you.
No one is born good or evil. That’s something that holds true even in our universe. Instead, people are shaped by both their upbringing and the choices that they make. It is because of all this that some of the recent writing decisions in regards to redemption are questionable and, in my opinion, not fitting with the overarching themes of Star Wars. This means we’ve gotten to the Jacen and Vestara portion of our programming.
When you look back at Jacen Solo throughout the Expanded Universe, it’s hard to believe that the Solo-grinning, bad joke cracking teenager could ever possibly grow up to call himself Darth Caedus. It’s been almost five years since Invincible was published and I still can’t believe that it ended with Jaina killing her twin brother. It felt like everyone just gave up on Jacen and that’s not the Skywalker/Solo family we’ve all come to know and love over the years. While Jacen clearly made some terrible life decisions that lead to his complete and utter fall to the dark side, those decisions didn’t mean he was suddenly unworthy of redemption. After all, this is the Jedi Order that was keeping Raynar Thul locked in their basement as they de-bugified him or whatever you’d like to call it. Caedus might have been incredibly powerful but a team of Jedi could’ve beaten and captured him. There could’ve been a slow process of redemption as the B-plot in the following novels. Instead, he’s dead and our Solo trio’s down to
twoone. To put it simply, Jacen Solo didn’t need to die for the plotline to be resolved and the Skywalker/Solo clan should have almost immediately dismissed the idea of killing him regardless of what he had done and never gone through with it.
In the case of Vestara, she’s a teenage girl who was raised in an isolated society where there was no other option than being a Sith. She was born into it and it is what she was consistently taught throughout her life. The first time she was really shown another viable option was when she was 16 and begrudgingly traveling with Luke and Ben Skywalker. To say that time sent Vestara mixed signals about the possibility of redemption would be an understatement. For a while, she definitely resists against the idea of coming to the light side and understandably so. Turning against your upbringing is difficult to say the least. But when she starts to come around to the idea, Luke goes back and forth between ‘the path to redemption will be difficult but is possible’ to ‘she’s a Sith and can never be a Jedi!’. It’s enough to give anyone some emotional whiplash so while it’s disappointing, it’s really not surprising when she decides to reject the light side at the end of Ascension. You could potentially argue that Luke had become jaded against the dark side after the events of Legacy of the Force but that’s still an incredibly jarring change in characterization.
None of this is to say that dark side characters can’t be killed or that every single character must go through a redemption arc. Again, everyone makes their own choices. Instead, the problem comes from the writing in the 40+ ABY timeframe. This isn’t a Luke Skywalker that I recognize as the great redeemer anymore. This isn’t the Jedi whose wife continued to affectionately call him Farmboy up until her death. And yes, life events shape our choices and our thoughts and people do change over time but for Luke to go through such a drastic personality change is incredulous to say the least. It’s not a problem restricted only to Luke. At the beginning of Crucible, a young Jedi in training is arrogant because he’s done so well with his training. He’s not the first youngster (Jedi or otherwise) with a big head and neither will he be the last. But instead of first trying to think of a way to help him tone down his arrogance and become more humble, almost all of the Masters agree that tossing him out of the Order is safest because there’s a chance he might fall to the dark side. Corran Horn of all people is the one to speak up and suggest otherwise. (As it is, the apprentice is told to start his basic Jedi training all over again. Or leave the Jedi Order.) This isn’t how the new Jedi Order is supposed to be.
Somewhere along the line, something clearly changed with how characters (and authors) view redemption. It hasn’t been a change for the better and characters like Jacen and Vestara have subsequently been made to suffer for it. Twins shouldn’t be made to kill each other in a galaxy that defeated the Yuuzhan Vong and teenage girls should be given the chance to become better people instead of rejected as hopeless causes. Luke Skywalker should get to be the sort of person who can see the good in everyone again. Those who use the dark side shouldn’t be forever condemned because after all, isn’t it supposed to be only the Sith who deal in absolutes?
It’s time to get back to the root theme of Star Wars. Let’s give redemption another chance.