We arrive back on Bogano, which is where our MacGuffin is waiting for us. Essentially Master Cordova hid this supremely important and sensitive bit of intelligence on this secret planet that only Jedi know about, and then he created a planet-hopping scavenger hunt that would require us to brave treacherous territory and attract Imperial attention to get the Astrum to open the vault. Anyone could have showed up and grabbed the Astrum at any time. The Empire could have taken it just because they hoard relics. Malicos could have taken it just because it was a cool Jedi thing sitting in the creepy tomb where he ruled over the hapless locals. The locals could have taken it because it’s theirs and maybe they’re attached to it.
This is like putting all your valuables in a bank vault, but then storing the key for the vault in the middle of a warzone, inside of a despotic nation, in territory controlled by a ruthless drug cartel. Those layers of danger aren’t protecting your key, they’re endangering it further.
Well there’s no use crying over it nowHe said, just after spending two paragraphs doing Exactly That.. We have the Astrum, so let’s get this holocron thing.
Cal returns to the vault where this whole mess began and inserts the Astrum. A door opens, and Cal approaches the dark reflective surface hiding behind it. This causes him to…
Hang On, WHAT?
Yeah. The Astrum just opened a door. That’s it. It was a big stone door. Not only was the key “hidden” in a place that made it vulnerable to pilfering, but the door itself was completely mundane. Cal could have ended this ridiculous adventure before it started by just spending a couple of minutes cutting with his lightsaber. More importantly, that means the Empire could easily force the door open, drill through it, or blow it up. A single stone door is not an impediment to a galactic Empire armed with magical future technology.
Worse, the door doesn’t even lead anywhere! Behind the door is a reflective wall, and when you touch it you have a vision. We basically just crossed the galaxy and fought three different Sith Lords so we could slip the dust cover off a touchscreen.
I’m not just nitpicking here. This will actually become important in a few minutes.
This is yet another place in the second half of the game where it feels like maybe there was supposed to be a big section of platforming and puzzle-solving, but instead we just jump to a cutscene.
Cal finds himself walking through a Zeffo temple. An ancient Zeffo sage speaks to him about their fallen society. He tells Cal:
“Dogma blinded us to the path of balance and gradually we allowed our pride to corrupt us. The greater control we sought, the further we fell into ruin.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with this reveal. It’s just that it doesn’t really tell us anything interesting. It doesn’t answer a big lingering question. It doesn’t say HOW they were killed by pride. Did they start a war they couldn’t finish? Did they embrace technology they couldn’t control? Did they all starve to death because everyone was too proud to cook dinner? What happened beyond this vague idea of “We were too proud”?
This isn’t wrong, it’s just a missed opportunity. Maybe some of Cardova’s vague rambling could have made us curious about their fate, and this monologue could be the big reveal / payoff. Maybe Cere and Cal could have wondered where the Jedi went wrong, and the Zeffo’s message could answer that question. The story could have proposed some philosophical question about the Force, and the Zeffo’s last message could have contained some “Do or do not, there is no try” type fortune-cookie wisdom that resonated with our heroes.
The encounter on Ilos in Mass Effect 1 was a powerful scene because it answered questions that had been gnawing at us since the start of the game, and it brought meaning and resolution to Shepard’s vision. Here the Zeffo sage just shares some vague laments with no applicable lessons for our heroes.
I want to stress that this scene isn’t bad. It’s serviceable. But it could have been spectacular.
But Think of the Children!
Cal proceeds past the sage and enters a vision of the future. His future self has evidently used the holocron to round up a bunch of children, who are still somehow children, even at this unknown point in the future. The Empire attacks and kidnaps all the kids. Cal evidently becomes an inquisitor.
The cutscene doesn’t really show Cal’s conversion. He enters the vision as his normal self and then exits wearing an Imperial uniform. There’s no reason given for his conversation, which takes some of the bite out of this. I guess we just have to assume this is another case of conversion via torture.
Cal then confronts this dark image of himself, and the vision ends.
Again, I think this idea of the Empire torturing everyone to make them evil is a less interesting idea than having the Empire offer a deal of “Join or Die”, and then slowly eroding a person’s will by pushing them through a series of moral compromises.
To show you what I’m talking about, let me explain…
How I Would Do it
The Empire shows up at wherever Cal is running his Jedi school. Instead of shooting everyone, they talk to him. If you’ve ever seen the opening of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, then you know how tense this sort of standoff can be.
On the Imperial side of the frame we have a nice bunch of perfectly reasonable bureaucrats. Looming behind them are a couple of Inquisitors and a bunch of shock troopers. On the opposite side of the frame we see Cere and Cal with a bunch of young students behind them. These two groups sort of loosely mirror each other in terms of standing formation. The Jedi side of the frame is (say) grassy and warm, while the Imperial side of the frame has them standing on stone or bare ground. Maybe we set this scene at sunset and have the Imperial side backlit by a red sunset and the Jedi side be a fading blue sky. This is a dream / vision of the future, so we’re free to lean really hard into stylish presentations like this to set our mood.
The bureaucrats want to talk to Cal about this school he’s running. They don’t want Cal teaching any more Jedi heretics that will stab the benevolent Empire in the back, so Cal needs to run his school under Sith supervision.
Cal tries to argue, but the alternative is that they purge everyone. “But hey,” says the bureaucrat, “Let’s be reasonable here. Nobody wants to see anything bad happen to these kids. I’m on your side. I just want to see your school run properly. Don’t let your pride get all these kids killed.” (This dialog is obviously a paraphrase. I’m not going to bang out several pages of proper script for this thought experiment. You get the idea.)
Then we cut to sometime later. The Sith headmaster (just another inquisitor) is telling Cal that he needs to be harsher with the kids. He needs to inflict pain to teach the kids how to endure it. He needs to let the weak kids fail to motivate the strong ones to try harder. He needs to teach them obedience to make sure they stay in line.
Cal naturally objects. “No problem,” says the headmaster, “You can step down and we’ll give your teaching job to Darth Psycho Torture Face here and he can teach the kids. Now to be honest, I don’t think he’s a very good teacher. Sometimes he gets too worked up and we, uh…. lose a few students, if you see what I mean. I’d much rather you have the job. Just use a firmer hand. You’ll see. This is really best for everyone.”
Then we cut to later and see Cal being ruthless and cold towards his students. When they ask why he’s so mean, he explains that, “This is for your own good.”
We get a final conversation with an inquisitor where she tells Cal, “Your students are too attached to you. It makes them sentimental. Weak.” Cal asks what he’s supposed to do, and she hands him a helmet saying, “Keep yourself at a distance. Make them fear you.” Cal hesitates and she adds, “If you really care about them, you will do this.”
So then Cal slips on the black helmet. He turns to face the camera, revealing Kestus the Inquisitor. Maybe he can repeat the quasi-catchphrase of his late Master Jaro Tapal by greeting his students with, “It’s time for instruction,” but in a threatening voice to show how Jaro’s stoic firmness has been twisted into heartless cruelty.
In my version he wasn’t instantly converted into a bad guy through torture, he was worn away by years of compromises, controlled by fear, and forced to choose the lesser of two evils so many times that choosing evil began to feel normal.
The idea of “conversion through compromise” feels more insidious and makes the bad guys more interesting. It’s more in keeping of the theme of the Empire being Space-Facism. And most importantly, it gives us drama based on characters rather than the brute mechanics of torture as a brainwashing tool.
Maybe this would make people uncomfortable, but it’s better than the lazy, nonsensical, and ultimately boring idea that all of the bad guys are recruited via torture. If you’re not comfortable examining what might make someone good fall to evil, then maybe you shouldn’t build your entire story around good people falling to evil. Do or do not. There is no try.
Anyway, that’s what I’d have done. Let’s get back to Cal.
Cal is back in the temple, and now the holocron is revealed. He approaches it, and Trilla appears.
So not only does she know that the holocron exists, she also knows what information is stored in it and where it was being kept. Evidently the Empire knew everything? All along?
As presented at the start of the story, the holocron was secret, what information it contained was secret, the location of this planet was secret, and the entire Cordova Galactic Scavenger Hunt was a secret. Supposedly, Cere was the only one who knew about any of this. But now somehow Trilla knows everything.
I am curious how they learned so much. If Trilla knew this before she fellOr rather: Was shoved. to the Dark Side, then they always knew everything and Cere was a massive idiot for not realizing this. It also makes us wonder why the Empire didn’t show up with a wrecking ball months ago and bash open this door.
On the other hand, if Trilla didn’t know from the start, then it forces us to ask how they learned about it. It’s established that Trilla can hack communications or whatever, but that doesn’t explain how she learned all of this. Was Cere broadcasting a livestream whenever we had private talks on the ship?
I suppose we can make little hand-wave motions and blame it on the Force. It’s not like this is a Star Wars first.
Back in 1977, A New Hope showed us that Luke was a nobody farm boy who eventually blew up the Death Star. Then when we get to the opening of Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader has somehow learned his name and is searching for Luke. The movie never explained how Vader gained such oddly specific intelligence on the rebellion, but we have the handy excuse that the Force can hand out plot-based premonitions as needed.
But this end-game reveal is a little more troublesome because it forces us to look back on the plot and reexamine it in light of this new knowledge. In doing so it becomes obvious that:
- There is no explanation for how the Empire gained all of this supremely important intelligence short of “A wizard did it”, except the writer didn’t even make this clear and none of the good guys think to ask, “How did the Empire figure this out? Do we have a traitor in our midst?”
- This retroactively makes all of the Empire’s previous actions nonsensical. If they knew everything, then why were they trying to kill Cal the whole time? Judging by the number of times I wound up on the Game Over screen when fighting Second Sister, she wasn’t “pretending” to try and kill him. She was trying to kill him. But now we learn that her plan requires that Cal’s adventure is successful so she can steal the Holocron at the end.
Our first problem is that the Empire seems to abruptly gain unexplained access to critical intel, the second problem is that they never use it, and the third problem is that the good guys don’t seem to notice or care.
I think you could patch over this if you made it clear that the Empire is suffering from a bit of infighting. We could say that all the sisters are scheming against each other, because everybody wants to be the one to defeat Cal. Killing or capturing Jedi is the most direct path to advancement within the Sith ranks, and now that the galaxy is low on Jedi the sisters are fighting hard over who gets to finish them off. So the sisters are all keeping secrets and backstabbing each other. Then all we’d need to do is have the good guys hang a lampshade on this situation and let the audience fill in the blanks however they want.
Anyway, once Trilla and Cal trade a few verbal jabs, they get out their weapons to trade lightsaber jabs. We’ll see where that leads next time.
 He said, just after spending two paragraphs doing Exactly That.
 Or rather: Was shoved.
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