Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #40
"DUELING AMBITIONS" PART 2
Deception and danger haunt the crew of the Hot Prospect!
While I was in the process of figuring out the details of the arcs to follow "Vindication," I thought a lot about slavery in the Star Wars universe. In a milieu where droids existed to do the work, I wasn't sure exactly where slaves went. Droids were already depicted as second-class citizens, or not as citizens at all; organic slaves added another level, but I wasn't sure where that level went.
I was driving Maggie Thompson, longtime magazine editor and one of the founders of science fiction and comics fandom, to a convention when the discussion of living slaves in a universe with artificial beings came up. I asked the same question Elbee asks in this issue: Why would you need them? Her response was identical to what Jarael provides: "Entertainment value." And thinking about it, it fit with what we'd seen in Return of the Jedi. Why does Jabba keep slave girls? Because who wants to see See-Threepio dance?
There's more to it than that, of course, but it inspired the storyline in "Dueling Ambitions." We're used to seeing slave labor in grueling industrial or agrarian conditions. But in professional sports? That was another story -- and it tied neatly into some things in real-life sports history, in the days when some contracts were the equivalent of indentured servitude. A lot of the terminology that exists even now in sports labor relations evokes considerations of property and freedom: "Trades." "Restricted free agents." "Franchise players." (Even a certain trading-card game/cartoon/video game is about collecting and trading dueling creatures for sport. No one's saying they're mistreated — but they are stuck in a ball all day, and they're not often asked whether they're in the mood to fight!)
So the super-sized dueling league, as imagined here, might well have to rely on a network of talent it can absolutely control -- the duelists having no more say than a horse in a horserace. To control the duelists, they'd need leverage -- and control of the media surrounding them. That suggested the scam that Gryph attempts to run in #39 -- his own version of "past-posting," as seen in The Sting -- which accidentally uncovers the truth about what Goethar Kleej really intended to say about his situation.
Every so often, the Star Wars milieu presents a perfect situation, ready-made — and when I was trying to determine what Goethar's species would be, learning about Gotals and their sensory perception made them a perfect choice for his situation with Aubin. I don't know if we've seen a Gotal with prosthetic horns before, but we have now!
This issue also advanced Jarael's storyline with yet another return to the Jedi Tower on Taris, which we've now seen in dream sequences both in #16 and here, both depicted by Brian Ching -- and further develops the story of Zayne's absence. Fans often debate whether sequences are visions or revelatory dreams, but I'm not sure it makes much difference. We saw that both exist in Star Wars, in Episodes III and V.
There are a lot of clues in this storyline, and "Dueling Ambitions" will bear several rereadings as we go further along...
- Issue #40 was a fun personal milestone for me -- it's the number of issues Jim Starlin wrote of one of my favorite space opera comics, Dreadstar. Of course, his true count of stories in that series is much larger, when you include "Metamorphosis Odyssey" and "The Price."
- How many rounds were there between the qualifier and what we see at the opening here? We don't get into it here, but there would have been at least one, and probably no more than two. The final eight-player duel would come from four semifinal bouts with 32 duelists; these are what we see at the opening. (Remember, two players advance from a field of eight.) A quarterfinal round would require 16 bouts involving 128 duelists; another round out would involve 64 bouts and 512 duelists. That's a nice round number — and we've seen from the NCAA that you can run several qualifiers simultaneously. So the Tandem might have been a qualifier, a quarterfinal, and a semifinal; plugging in another round is possible, taking us out to 256 bouts and 2048 duelists, but would require round-the-clock fights in different parts of Jervo's World. Going north of that would involve multiple sites, I would have to imagine.
- There are several jet-pack users in the games, as we see here. Under the rules we imagined for the aerials, it doesn't matter what you use to get airborne, as long as you start the event with the ability to fly (you couldn't get through the scream-tubes otherwise).
- We don't really get a close look at the jet-pack riding assailant in Goethar's arena, but the script had him as a Klatooinian. He's not the same guy as in the other bout, as it was going on elsewhere on Jervo's World. When they're running the big tournaments, not all the events necessarily begin in the central Hub arena (or some may start there, but the riders are expected to enter the satellite arenas so another event can begin). Again, there's a miniatures adventure in this for someone someplace...
- Regard the identical sound effect from issue #6 when the window of the tower breaks. I mean, literally, the SAME SOUND EFFECT, plucked from the original lettering file! Mike Heisler saves everything! Eagle-eyed readers may also find the shot from Rohlan's face-mask in the dream-sequence somewhere else in the series...
- We begin to see the scale of Jervo's World when we see that they have landing bays big enough to accommodate Hot Prospect.
- Regard again the holographic nature of Goethar's audience in the arena; it's why the Krish let him talk, since they control who hears him.
- Aubin's problems seemed very amenable to Force-meditation solutions; I don't know if that's been pursued elsewhere before in stories with Gotals, but it was a natural here.
- This is our first non-holographic meeting with Jervo since waaaay back in #1. He's no prettier in person!
- The buildings we see with Jervo's office are actually the spires that top the space station.
- Gryph's "tub of goo" line goes way back to vintage David Letterman, who on the old NBC show in 1985 harangued Atlanta Braves reliever Terry Forster for days, calling him a "fat tub of goo." After being berated for days, Forster came on the show for one of the more prickly guest appearances in talk show memory. I just remember the expression as something one did not want to be called, and something Gryph was more than likely to apply to Jervo!
This issue has been reprinted in the following collections:
Star Wars Omnibus: Knights of the Old Republic Vol. 3 (Dark Horse, 2014),
available from Amazon.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Vol. 7: Prophet Motive (Dark Horse, 2009),
available from Amazon.
The issue is also available digitally from Marvel.com.
Be sure to also check my shop for the availability of signed editions.