Ewok Corner: Thinking Outside the BoxMay 8, 2015 at 1:01 am | Posted in Books, Opinion, Regular Feature, Star Wars Books | Leave a comment
Tags: lords of the sith, paul s. kemp
Thinking Outside the Box: Kemp and Lords of the Sith
While Lords of the Sith is an action filled Vader and Palpatine adventure, it does some things that make it stand apart from other Star Wars novels. It has nothing to do with grandiose, ambitious plots or wicked twist endings, but in taking a different spin on characters. In Lords of the Sith, Kemp takes three original characters—Isval, Belkor and Moff Mors—and adds an element to each that makes them rather unique. While Vader and Palpatine may be the stars of the book, and they certainly take up all the cover space, they’re actually not the characters that left me pondering at the end of the story. The real enigmas are the supporting cast.
Now before I go any further, let me warn you that I’m going into full blown spoiler territory. Don’t read this if you haven’t read the book and don’t want it spoiled. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Belkor.
Colonel Belkor Dray starts out as your typical Imperial officer. He’s out for himself and he’s not timid about doing whatever it takes to get ahead. That includes sacrificing his superior and, if the tide takes him off into the deep, even conspiring to kill the very leaders of the Empire to protect himself. In that regard, Dray really isn’t all that interesting. While he is a traitor to the Empire, he’s not a believer in the Rebellion, or the Free Ryloth Movement in this case. Thus the reader can’t get behind him for being a good guy doing the right thing. Belkor is all about doing what’s right for himself. He’s also not the iconic villain because he’s not true to the cause of the Empire, he’s always getting outsmarted or out bluffed by Cham Syndulla, and comes off more incompetent than deadly. In a fight, Belkor always loses. He’s the stereotypical villain.
Where things get interesting is when Belkor loses his mind. Yes, Belkor straight up flips his lid and goes total nuts, and for that, I started to love him. Here’s a guy who started the book as one of our viewpoint characters for Lords of the Sith. Through his flawed perspective, we saw Moff Mors as a fat, lazy Imperial Moff shirking her duty and making Belkor do all the hard work. We saw Cham and his rebels as tools toward achieving an end. Old Dray was rather dull and boring. But then, toward the end of the book, with his life spiraling out of control, he goes bonkers. Case in point, he kills the pilot of his aircraft and then starts talking to the corpse. Now, I’m not exactly sure why this little story point caught my fancy, but it did. I was really enjoying seeing this character go off the deep end to the extent he started talking to dead people. It’s ridiculous, it’s crazy, it’s bizarre, but it’s also unique and intriguing. I mean it makes sense when you think about what this guy has gone through and what he’s in for. He could either accept the worse kind of punishment for the crimes he’s committed, or he could go insane and try to escape punishment by fleeing from reality. Sadly, Belkor’s journey into unreality ended a little too quickly to make him the most fascinating character in the book. However, he was on his way there.
Isval, on the other hand, could be argued to be the most interesting character in the book. Her biggest handicap is the fine line of played out tropes that her backstory dances upon. She’s a Twi’lek and she’s had a damaged past, being forced into prostitution, escaping her slavery, and now being bent on revenge. Had it ended there, she would have been a forgettable character. But like Belkor, Kemp does something to add a twist on her character. Isval isn’t just seeking revenge against the injustices of the Empire by fighting for Cham and his Free Ryloth Movement, she’s out for blood. Literally. Cham and his organization is just a nice cover for Isval as she goes out in her free time to murder Imperials. Let’s cut to the chase here, she’s a serial killer. As part of her inability to heal the wounds of her past, Isval goes down into the darkest dregs of society, facing the terrors of her youth, and selects targets for her vengeance. To ward off being completely evil, she targets those who prey upon people who have been enslaved to the spice-and-vice clubs on Ryloth. She even frees the girls being preyed upon and offers them an escape from this lifestyle.
Yet Isval’s rescuing of these poor victims never feels like the focus of her motivation. It’s the savage beating—and implied slaying—of the Imperials that seems to really give her joy. For instance, in the book, Isval rescues a girl. The girl in turn begs Isval not to kill the Imperial. However Isval can’t just let him go. She has to pummel him before she can leave him be. She has to have that taste of violence to satisfy her insatiable bloodlust. For years she’s been holding on to this anger and hatred, feeding it with these vigilante hunts, and allowing it to fester. It’s been eating away at her morality and turning her into the very evil she thinks she’s hunting. This is what makes her interesting. She is on the side of the good guys, yet she is, down deep, hiding an evil streak. Cham is the one person in her life that could pull her away from the brink and perhaps make her into something better. He could potentially save her from the road she’s committed herself to, the path of a serial killer convinced they’re doing something righteous, and maybe, just maybe, heal her traumatic, psychological wounds.
Alas, Isval, like Belkor, dies at the end of the book. (fact check that) While that does end her story and the possibilities for her character, it does not belittle the questions her character raised. Was Isval a good guy, a bad guy, or somewhere in the middle? And if in the middle, just how far along that murky road was she toward being a villain herself? It’s those questions her character raises that causes me to like her so much.
The final character I want to discuss is one who received quite a bit of attention before the book’s release. Moff Delion Mors is introduced in Lords of the Sith in about the most blunt, awful fashion you could think of. Kemp minces no worlds in quickly describing her as a opulent, overstuffed, drug using lazy lesbian. When I read the first description of her, alarm bells started going off. I could just see the hate mail brewing. In fact the story went a long time before correcting that description of the Moff. Nevertheless, even with such a condemning introduction of the character, Kemp does the unthinkable and redeems her. The trick was Belkor. By utilizing Belkor as an unreliable viewpoint character, we first see Moff Mors in the worst light imaginable. Well, I guess she could have eaten woklings for dessert, but save that, she was cast in a pretty bad light. Toward the end of the story, however, things turn around.
Rather than just being this awful person, Moff Mors turns out to be a sympathetic character, one of the few sympathetic characters in the book. She lost her wife years ago, and like Isval, she struggles to deal with the tragedy in her life. The result is that she’s let herself go. She’s stopped caring. Her life has become a casual tromp through carnal pleasures and the misuse of her political office. Yet the mistakes Belkor makes in helping Cham and his resistance fighters, in bring down the wrath of Darth Vader and the Emperor himself, manages to snap Delion out of it. After all these years, she manages to find a spark in herself, a desire to to try and do one more thing, to fix her mistakes and go down fighting. In that, she not only finds redemption, but a second chance on life. Unlike Belkor and Isval, Moff Mors survives. Much like Vader will one day find redemption, Delion gets that same opportunity, a chance for people to forget and forgive her flaws, to see the thing she has reshaped herself to be, or perhaps the person she once was.
While Lords of the Sith probably won’t get a sequel, there is a chance we could see Moff Mors come back for another story. Vader and the Emperor will certainly get their share of books, comics and maybe even stand alone films somewhere down the line, but characters like Delion Mors are ripe for storytelling opportunities. With her, Kemp put a spin on typical character development by introducing readers to an unlikable character, and then turning her around into someone you could actually root for. By doing the unexpected with serial killing good guys, lunatic Imperials talking to dead people, and Moffs who go through the ten step program under the threat of a Sith Force choke, Paul S. Kemp gives readers something different to think about.