We’re back on the planet Zeffo, but this time we’re going to be exploring the back 9, which wasn’t reachable on our last visit. Apparently the Empire has resumed their efforts to dig up old artifacts, and this has opened up a fresh batch of obstacle courses for us to navigate.
Let’s just skip past the next half hour of platforming, puzzling, and stormtrooper-murdering. It’s all good stuff because the base mechanics of this game are usually strongThe quicktime events can go die in a Sarlacc pit, though., but I don’t have anything new to say about that.
At the end of the road, we come face-to-face with the Second Sister, who we fought back in the tutorial. As before, the fight is cut short. The two combatants find themselves on opposite sides of a force field.
So now it’s time for them to exchange some words. But before we do that, let’s back up a bit…
Earlier in the Story, Cere and Cal had a talk about her commitment issues with the force. Cere revealed that before the purge she had an apprentice named Trilla. When the Empire came for them, Cere told Trilla to hide out, and then Cere attempted to lead the Empire away.
Cere got caught and tortured. Things get a little vague here, but she admits that somewhere along the line she used THE DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE. It’s clear there’s more to the story, but this was all that Cere was willing to tell.
So now let’s jump back to our showdown in progress…
The Second Sister takes off her helmet to reveal that she’s Trilla. Cere evidently broke under torture and “betrayed” Trilla by telling the Empire where she was hiding. The Empire captured Trilla and turned her to the Dark Side. (Presumably using more torture.) Then – just to be dicks – they brought the now-evil Trilla to Cere to show her, “HA HA! Look what we did to your apprentice!”
THAT’S when Cere cracked and used the Dark Side.
Trilla explains all of this to Cal, trying to convince him that Cere isn’t trustworthy since she “betrayed” her apprentice.
I have several problems with this entire argument:
- This is NOT betrayal. That’s being broken under torture. There’s a big difference! I think it’s generally understood that breaking under torture is more or less inevitable. It’s not like they offered Cere money to give up Trilla’s location.
- Cere didn’t use the Dark Side until she saw what happened to Trilla. This, along with the fact that she endured torture for an unknown length of time, proves that not only did she not “betray” Trilla, she endured much hardship for her apprentic and clearly loved her very much.
- Even if we accept the notion that Cere’s breaking was a betrayal, Trilla is guilty of the same thing! She broke to become a Sith. If enduring torture is so easy, then why couldn’t YOU do it, Trilla?
- Trilla offers all of this as “proof” that Cere is an unreliable ally. “She’ll betray you too!” Trilla taunts. Except, Cere is not currently being tortured by the Empire so why would she?
So Trilla’s entire argument is deeply irrational. You can argue that she doesn’t need to make sense because she’s a brainwashed slave now. That’s… fine. I guess. I mean, I think it’s more interesting to have an adversary that makes decisions based on a coherent point of view that you can examine and argue over, but whatever. Trilla has a get-out-of-rational-thinking-free card.
But Cal is apparently scandalized by this revelation, and there’s no excuse for that. Cal gets all worked up over this, and later he even repeats the accusation of “betrayal” to Cere’s face. It feels less like Trilla can’t think straight and more like the writer really does think that breaking under torture is a betrayal.
Trilla spends the rest of the chapter calling Cal on the communicator and taunting him about this, and he never has an answer for it. I found it maddening that Cal couldn’t offer even the most obvious counter-argument to any of her gloating and taunts. It made Cal seem like a complete dimwit.
My other problem with this line of thinking is…
That’s not How Evil Works
In a storytelling sense, the Dark Side is supposed to represent temptation. It should appeal to your weakness, your vanity, your selfishness. As Yoda explained in Empire Strikes Back, it represents a quick and easy path to power. As a storytelling tool, this is delicious, since it lets us reveal character through action.
In Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir’s betrayal was a classic example of this. He was a generally good guy and he wanted the best for his people. But he’d been worn down by years of gradual defeat and he’d lost all sense of hope. He began to covet the ring because he believed it was his best chance to save his people. Yes, The Ring was persuading him. But that’s sort of like the devil on your shoulder. The devil can’t change your desires, it can only persuade you to act on them in foolish ways. Boromir didn’t hate Frodo. He didn’t taunt Frodo like a mustache-twirling villain. He’d rationalized his plans as simply his only hope to save his people.
That made for wonderful, heartbreaking drama, and showed just how dangerous The One Ring was.
You don’t get that kind of drama when you just torture someone into falling to the Dark Side. If some distant third party tortures Pandora into opening her box, then it’s no longer Pandora’s fault / weakness, it’s the fault of this absentee devil. That’s a fundamentally less interesting story because it takes all the agency away from our established character.
Also, the mechanics of torture on the human psyche are fairly dark and not something that an adventure story can really grapple with. The question of “To what degree is Trilla actually responsible for her actions?” is incredibly complicated and is more about psychology and physiology than it is about her personality and the Force. And to be clear, this is a drama-first story so her personality should be the driving forceNo pun intended. for the antagonists. Not only do I disagree with the writer on the culpability of these two characters regarding their supposed betrayals, but I think this brainwashing stuff winds up being a dramatic dead-end because neither of these characters are fully responsible for their actions.
I also disagree with the premise that Cere necessarily “used the Dark Side” when she threw her fit and escaped her prison. To explain why, let’s revisit…
Return of the Jedi
So Luke surrenders to Imperial forces and allows himself to be taken to Darth Vader. He’s not here because he wants to fight Vader, but because he believes he can redeem him.
The Emperor tries to goad Luke into fighting his father. His father tells him that it’s useless to resist. Obi-Wan told him that Vader is beyond redemption. Everyone is telling Luke that his only hope is to kill his father.
Luke eventually retreats into the shadows, refusing to fight. Vader prods his mind and discovers that Luke has a sister that he cares for. So Vader announces that she will be the next target.
This is what propels Luke into action. He’s not fighting for hatred of his enemies, but for love of his sister. This passion energizes him, and he overpowers his father. Then, once Vader has been disarmed, Luke relents.
This is the light side of the Force. It’s fighting for love and compassion, and showing mercy whenever you can.
Luke essentially refutes the Old Ways of the Jedi, who thought that being stoic and distant was the path to enlightenment. Luke shows that the opposite of the Dark Side isn’t detachment, but love and compassion.
This is how I’ve always interpreted the filmI mean, not ALWAYS. I certainly didn’t give it this much thought when I saw it at the age of 12. But this is what I put together once I was old enough to do some sort of analysis., and I’ve always been irritated by the newer thinking that suggests that the difference between Light and Dark has to do with fighting style rather than motive.
“I never choke people or shoot lightning, and the piles of corpses I leave behind are always Bad People, therefore I’m Light Side.”
Going strictly by what we’ve been told, I reject the idea that Cere “used the Dark Side”. She saw what happened to her beloved pupil, and that passion allowed her to break free. Sure, she killed everyone present who wasn’t Trilla, but how many people is that? Later on we’ll see it amounts to a half-dozen troopers. Cal kills that many dudes about every five minutes. If her killing a few stormtroopers qualifies her for the Dark Side, then Cal is a straight-up Sith Lord. In my view, Cere breaking free and killing her captors isn’t any more Dark Side than Luke attacking his father to protect his sister.
Also, Cere didn’t suffer any consequences as a result of this supposed brush with the Dark Side. You can call it the Dark Side if you want, but she only used it to accomplish something good and heroic. It freed her, spared her friend, and didn’t harm any innocents in the process.
Let’s get back to our chat with Trilla.
Cordova the Ridiculous…
This conversation also reveals that the Empire knows our holocron MacGuffin exists, they know what it’s forIt has the location of a bunch of force-sensitive “children”., and who created it. So they know essentially everything.
Once again, this entire mess was caused by Eno Cordova, the magnificent dumbass. He created this huge convoluted scavenger hunt, which wound up being a bigger obstacle to the Jedi than to the Empire. If he’d just put the stupid thing on his desk back on Bogano then none of this would have happened. I’d feel better if just one of the good guys would lampshade this. But no, Cordova is supposedly a wise and clever man.
At the start of the game, we were faced with two possibilities:
- We don’t look for the holocron. Nothing happens. Things stay as they are.
- We find the holocron. We gain access to a bunch of young people to recruit, and can begin to rebuild the Jedi order.
But now we’re faced with a horrible and terrifying third option: If the Sith find it, then they can gather up these young prospects and balloon their ranks further. This outcome is so terrible that we can’t just walk away and hope for the best. Option #1 is no longer open to us. We must race against this massively superior force to recover an item, because allowing them to have it would be too devastating to overcome. We’re trapped in this terrible no-choice situation because Cordova had to be cute and concoct this ridiculous fetch quest.
In the words of a very wise leader: “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”
We need to spend the next section of gameplay exploring the second puzzle-tomb on Zeffo. During this adventure, Trilla keeps calling up and taunting Cal about what a betrayer Cere is. Cal allows himself to get worked up over Trilla’s irrational jabs, which really wore on my patience. His dialog here just exists to set up taunts for her. That’s fine. I imagine playing Sith politics within the Inquisition can sharpen your tongue, and I imagine being an introverted scrapper on a remote would wouldn’t give Cal much of an opportunity to practice witty banter and comebacks. But after the fourth or fifth prank call from Trilla I began muttering at my screen…
“Dude! You are terrible at this. Just turn off your communicator. I can’t stand to hear any more of your cringy attempts at bravado.”
I do wonder what the writer was thinking with Cal. His character concept is good on paper, but in terms of personality he suffers from a terrible case of “normal guy”. No apparent flaws. No great virtues. That’s fine if you’re making a blank-slate RPG protagonist or an empty vessel silent protagonist, but this guy is the leading role in a linear cinematic style story that employs full performance capture. This character needs to be vibrant and exciting.
Also, he really should be the driving force in the plot. That’s what protagonists are for. But instead the Sith chased him out of his old job, leaving him with nothing else to do with his life. So now he’s obeying Cere by obeying Cordova.
This is yet another example of a designer making the protagonist a passive character. It would make much more sense if it was Cal’s idea to go on this questThis would obviously require a re-write of both Cere and Cordova.. It would also ramp up the tension. Right now we have:
“Hi, I’m Cordova. If you can solve all my riddles, I’ll give you the prize!”
A straightforward promise like that isn’t inherently wrong, but compare it to having Cal say something like, “Okay, the holocron isn’t on Bogono like we hoped. But we can’t give up now. Maybe if I retrace Cordova’s steps I’ll be able to find some clues about where he put it. I know it seems like a long shot and I know the Empire will be after us, but we have to trust in the Force. If we give up, then the Empire wins!”
With this change, the challenge seems larger, and Cal is in the driver’s seat instead of a dead guy.
Building a Better Protagonist
Cal has a good backstory and a unique visual design, but in the first half of this story he’s got almost nothing going for him in terms of personality. He’s not witty, incisive, wise, or patient. He doesn’t come across as virtuous the way that (say) Spider-Man, Captain America, or Superman do. He doesn’t overcome any great temptation. He doesn’t do the right thing at great cost to himself. He doesn’t have anything clever to say. At the start of the story he makes it clear he’s joining Cere because he can’t go back to being a scrapper and he doesn’t have anything better to do. He doesn’t have a major personality flaw like arrogance or fear that’s preventing him from reaching his true potential. He eventually has an arc in dealing with the loss of his master during the purge, but it takes forever for the story to bring it up and it doesn’t seem to be driving his character the way that (say) Luke was driven by his fiery idealism.
Even if we decide we’re going to do this scavenger hunt plot as Cordova intended, I think it would be much more dramatic if (say) Cere was pushing him to kill so-and-so to advance their goals, and Cal resisted her guidance and chose to take a slower, more idealistic approach. This would solve two problems:
- It would help sell the notion the Cere had been somehow compromised by the Dark Side, and frame this failing as a Bad Thing. It would sell the notion that her emotional outburst had perhaps given her a bit of a vindictive streak, and that she’s currently blind to it.
- It would give Cal agency within the story. This is our main character. The main character NEEDS to be a driving force in the story because you reveal who characters are by their actions. As it stands, Cal joins Cere because that’s his only option, and then he does everything she tells him. Like having Sheapard surrender his agency to TIM in Mass Effect 2, making our player character a puppet of an NPC is a great way to make the story less interesting while at the same time creating frustration for the audience.
Also, there’s something about his default expression that makes him seem mildly derpy. His voice and face are based on a real actor and that guy looks fine, but something got lost in translation. Cal always looks mildly befuddled.
In any case, Cal Kestis really needed a little more personality spark – particularly in the early game – to make us love him and cheer for him.
 The quicktime events can go die in a Sarlacc pit, though.
 No pun intended.
 I mean, not ALWAYS. I certainly didn’t give it this much thought when I saw it at the age of 12. But this is what I put together once I was old enough to do some sort of analysis.
 It has the location of a bunch of force-sensitive “children”.
 This would obviously require a re-write of both Cere and Cordova.
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