This is the player’s third matchup against Second Sister, but Cal’s fourth. The first one was cutscene-only, so the player didn’t participate. Then a few minutes after that, we got our tutorial duel where Cal escaped with the help of Cere. Then at the end of Zeffo part 2 we got a rematch that was cut short by a forcefield. And now here we are near the end of the game. Both sides have been indirectly fighting for the holocron, but now the two sides are going to fight over it directly.
Cal is Improving
Like I’ve belabored earlier in the series, there’s a tension between the story and the gameplay. You’ll get better at the game as you go, but that’s not always going to line up with how good the writer thinks Cal should be right now. Maybe you’ll breeze through the fight and then get a cutscene that shows Cal is outmatched, or maybe you’ll struggle with this fight and be treated to a cutscene where Cal seems to be far stronger than Trilla.
I suppose in an ideal world, we’d have a couple of different cutscenes to reflect who had the upper hand when the writer stops the fight.
At any rate, Cutscene Cal is way ahead of Trilla in this exchange. He tosses her away and takes her lightsaber. However, as soon he grabs her lightsaber he’s frozen in place.
Will You Put That Thing Away?!
At the start of the story, it’s established that Cal has the power to absorb memories from an object. The first time he comes aboard the Stinger Mantis he picks up Cere’s guitar and is instantly able to play a song that she wrote. Throughout the game, this power is used to justify collectible “audiologs” where Cal can absorb memories from lore-relevant items to find out the backstory of his current location.
I love that the writer was thoughtful enough to invent something non-violent that Cal can do with the Force so it doesn’t feel like his entire relationship with the Force revolves around murder. Even better, this power justifies and even improves existing gameplay tropes regarding collectibles. In other games it seems like such a ridiculous contrivance that someone would stop and record a podcast of themselves as their experiment goes horribly wrong and kills them. But in Star Wars? Big emotional moments like that are exactly the sorts of things that are likely to leave behind a mystical impression / echo / vision that can be sensed by a Jedi. This is such a brilliant creative decision.
Unfortunately, he can’t control it. As soon as he grabs Trilla’s saber, he’s overwhelmed by her years of torment and trauma. It’s a bit like Rey grasping Luke’s old lightsaber in The Force Awakens, except not as random, contrived, and poorly justified.
Although, there is still a bit of contrivance here. As soon as Cal locks up, Trilla says, “Careful with that thing. It’s been through hell!” Apparently she immediately understands…
- …that Cal has this unique power of sensing the history of objects.
- …that he can’t control when it happens.
- …that he’s currently being overwhelmed by her memories and not (say) a vision of what the Empire is about to do to all those kids.
- …that he’s effectively locked up so that she’s free to walk away with the prize and doesn’t need to worry about recovering her lightsaber.
Is she able to see all of these things in an instant, or is she just reading the script?
Anyway, Trilla leaves with the holocron and Cal is sucked into yet another vision.
Long, Long Ago…
We jump back in time and see the purge from Trilla’s perspective. I want to congratulate the author from having this cutscene be in first-person instead of doing the dumb Hollywood thing where everyone remembers their own life in third person.
We see Cere leave Trilla with the younglings, promising to lead the Empire away. Then we cut to a later scene where Trilla is converted to Sith via torture.
Anyway, converted-via-torture Trilla appears before broken-under-torture Cere, and Cere has her big freak out where she obliterates the troopers, destroys her restraints, knocks Trilla down, and is able to escape. She doesn’t check on Trilla, but instead just runs out of frame without making any effort to see if she’d just killed her former apprentice.
I Hate This So Much
I know I keep coming back to this, but I just can’t accept this idea on a thematic or philosophical level. I know I’ve voiced a lot of gripes with this game, but most of them are trivial little things that boil down to “That’s not how I would have done it” or “I wish we explored this idea in more detail”. But this idea where everyone is converted via torture is the one thing in the story I honestly hate. It yanks me out of the experience every time it comes up, and all I can do is catalog all of the ways this bothers me.
This story seems to embrace the notion that the Dark Side really is significantly stronger. Cere was held prisoner for a long time. They captured her, tortured her until she broke, then they captured Trilla and tortured her until she broke, and then brought Trilla to Cere. Cere couldn’t free herself with the Force during any of those months or years, but then she instantly and effortlessly escapes when she finally succumbs to the Dark Side or whatever.
This attacks a pretty foundational element of Star Wars lore and contradicts things that Yoda made explicit in Empire Strikes Back. It takes the story away from the Hope of the original and towards a more dire reading of the material that darkness is actually stronger than light. It’s also less interesting because it involves the writer pushing a “BECAUSE I SAID SO” button rather than having our characters make choices that they can regret / learn from. And finally, it deprives our story of a coherent villain. Trilla is our main adversary, but she’s a brainwashed drone and not someone that chose these actions of her own free will. Therefore none of the characters are fully responsible for all of this evil. Cere and Trilla didn’t torture themselves. Where’s the guy who did? It seems like he would be featured extremely prominently in their memories.
This is like a version of Lord of the Rings where Frodo becomes a badass by learning to use The One Ring responsibly, or a version of Spider-Man where Peter is a tall, handsome, cool, confident chosen one, blessed by genetics to become a powerful hero. My gripe goes deeper than pedantic arguments over plot holes and established lore, my problem is that this is fundamentally opposed to the sensibilities of the original on a philosophical level. This idea does not fit into the universe as I understand it, and no degree of lore-patches or fan-theory can close that gap.
Even if you want to argue that people are always responsible for their actions, even after brainwashing – something I’d philosophically disagree with but I’m willing to entertain for the purposes of story analysis – this still doesn’t fix this story because none of these people are the originator of the problem. In a storytelling sense, these people are all victims, with no central figure to represent the bad guysAnd no, the surprise cameo at the end doesn’t fulfill this need.. Yes, in the real world you’ll find people that (say) escaped Nazi prison camps without ever defeating the guy in charge on the way out. But this is Star Wars, and this universe is designed around the idea of having people in fancy costumes to embody the forces of evil.
For this to work, we needed some central inquisitor figure to stand as the mastermind in all of this. During these torture scenes, the victim is always shown as being aloneThere are a couple of stormtroopers around, but they’re obviously not running the show.. It’s like this torture is just some abstract thing that doesn’t come from anyone in particular. If you’re going to make torture such a major force in the story, then at least give us a Head Torture Guy to act as the avatar of all this evil. There needs to be someone there exerting psychological force on the victim. There needed to be some guy pulling the lever on Trilla’s torture machine while telling her that all this pain was actually Cere’s fault.
Is this conversion the result of a personality flaw on Trilla’s part? Is she too weak? To proud? Or are we supposed to feel sorry for her and see the conversion as inevitable? Shouldn’t we have a Head Torture Guy here to offer her a deal, or power, or whatever? That would show us who this character is and what drove her downfall. Every single hero in this story in converted by tortureCal and all of his students are converted in the future-vision we just saw.. This conversion is completely central to the actions of everyone in the story, yet it’s left unexplained. None of them FELL to the Dark Side as the result of personal weakness. They simply embraced the Dark Side in response to torture at the hands of nobody, to no particular end.
Why did Palpatine waste all those decades manipulating and lying to everyone if you can turn any Jedi into a supremely powerful and perfectly loyal slave like this? Whatta chump!
Back to Reality
The vision ends and Cal finds himself alone in the temple. I guess it was sporting of Trilla to not use his moment of vulnerability to dispatch him. There are a baker’s dozen troopers waiting outside, and if they’d stormed the place while Cal was on yet another fantastic voyage then they could have finished him off with little trouble.
I’m sorry for nitpicking and over-thinking this. This scene isn’t that bad. But the way this writer handles the Force makes me suspicious, obstinate, and unwilling to just go along with things.
Anyway, the player regains control and you need to hack your way through another few soccer teams worth of troopers to make it back to the shipWhich Trilla and the troopers made no effort to attack, despite it being parked in the open..
Back at the ship Cal finally apologizes to Cere, acknowledging that he had no right to judge her and that he didn’t really understand what she went through. This is probably a good moment, but since it’s inextricably bound to the whole idea of “The Dark Side is stronger and also you embrace the Dark Side against your will via torture” I just can’t get into it. I’m glad Cal finally came around, but I thought he was being a dumbass in the first place. He’s already experienced much more dramatic and emotional transformations when he made peace with his former master and began treating Merrin like an equal, so this one didn’t feel particularly interesting. It doesn’t feel like character growth, it feels like Cal finally put down the idiot ball the writer gave him after his first fight with Trilla.
In any case, here we are at the crisis point in the story and I just can’t get into it because of my fundamental disagreement with how the writer is interpreting the source material. I can’t say the author is objectively wrong. I know this isn’t the only Star Wars story to interpret the Dark Side / Light Side conflict like this, and I’m willing to bet that the majority of players shrugged and went along with it. But this just didn’t work for me.
 And no, the surprise cameo at the end doesn’t fulfill this need.
 There are a couple of stormtroopers around, but they’re obviously not running the show.
 Cal and all of his students are converted in the future-vision we just saw.
 Which Trilla and the troopers made no effort to attack, despite it being parked in the open.
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