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Abel G. Peña Week -- Part 7!

Posted By Paul on August 26, 2007

Welcome, at last, to the concluding part of TheForce.Net’s week-long series on Abel G. Peña—and to the concluding section of the two-part essay on heroes and villains in Abel's writing which began yesterday.

(In the real world, ‘yesterday’ was actually a few months back: this installment has been excessively delayed by a combination of computer troubles, illness, and good old-fashioned workload; but I hope that, when the reader takes the entire series together, it will follow on fluently from what’s come before.

Abel, you have my sincere apologies for the delay).

If you’ve found yourself here and want to remind yourself what it’s all about, you can go back to the beginning, and start reading the interview from the start again—or, alternatively, jump in randomly in part two, part three or part four if that takes your fancy.

You can also take a look at the review of Abel’s Droids, Technology and the Force; but what follows below is most directly designed to be read in conjunction with yesterday’s piece on heroes in Mr Peña’s work.

Of course, it's not obligatory to read any of that alongside this. It might be interesting if you don't.

The main thing is, I hope you have fun following me on the last stage of this journey. I had a blast just thinking about this stuff, and I hope that some of that carries over into what you’re about to read:




Hero and Villain: Part II—Villain

In the opening half of this dual discussion, I suggested that Abel G. Peña’s idea of heroism involved a protagonist with whom the reader and the author could identitfy—and who, more importantly, wasn’t compromised in the clarity of his ideals, even if he had to go mad to hold onto them. So, where does that leave the villains?

Well, within the Peña canon, you have to be wary of the bearings provided by the narrative perspectives, however authoritative they seem; but there are certainly some suggestive statements. In “The Emperor’s Pawns”, he describes Mara Jade’s first meeting with her alter ego Lumiya. Both women are red-haired, green eyed Force-users; both have also been Palpatine’s pet assassin, Luke Skywalker’s lover, and the mentor to the Grand Master’s heir and nephew, but their paths through the Star Wars story have normally placed them in hostile opposition to each other:
Mara caught her own distorted reflection in the cyborg’s metal crown.

There’s a suggestion of duality and reflection here, a disconcerting sense of looking in the mirror—or perhaps in one of those scary ‘clown mirrors’ in an old-style funfair of the sort that only seems to survive in horror movies.

This was something that Abel returned to in the interview he did with TF.N this week: he defined Mara and Lumiya as “really two sides of the same coin”, and perhaps more tellingly, he said he “really wanted to get the point across that Lumiya is what Mara could have become”.

But if it seems that the villain is the twisted opposite of the hero, that in itself is a tricky identity to define, beyond a verbal abstraction. Just what is it that defines the villain in their own terms—or at least, in Abel Peña’s terms?

Perhaps the clearest indicator is offered in the interview, where he observes that Jacen Solo “has forgotten the lesson of empathy, and thus become a villain”. General Grievous is also identified here as a “true villain”: Abel portrayed him as a figure stripped of humanity, waging total war with mathematical ruthlessness—but paradoxically driven by the anguish and self-loathing caused by his cyborging, externalising the suffering of the living fragment trapped inside his droid body. It seems that a lack of compassion is the clearest trope defining a villain here, and also a loss of idealism and honour—and those are certainly concepts that are close to the core of Star Wars.

It may also be important to note that Abel Peña doesn’t like the way that the anti-hero has become popular: he sternly warns against hero-worshiping such people.

On the other hand, he suggests that authors identify with their villains as well as their heroes, and says that he has a desire to make the reader do the same: and he then cites Osvald Teshik as an example—one of the the hero characters discussed yesterday.

Digging a little deeper, we find complexity, uncertainty. Who’s to say that the Mara/Lumiya opposition is a universal part of hero/villain dynamics—and who’s to say the villain and the hero are necessarily separate characters at all?

Well, let’s go back to where we started this diversion: it seems that the villain is the twisted opposite of the hero. It’s not, perhaps, that the villain has any inherently villainous quality, but simply that they oppose the hero. That’s quite a challenging perspective to bring, one that raises questions about the morality of the hero in turn.

Or perhaps we can look at villain as someone who’s trapped by being defined the in terms of the hero, not quite comfortable standing on his own two feet as a character.

Take Trioculus. He undoubtedly looks the part; but he is obsessed with making Leia his Empress, and locked in an inevitable conflict with Palpatine’s ‘true’ son Triclops. Even in his ambitions, he sets himself up as the perpetual understudy, the man who can’t be his own man: he wants to be the Emperor. His narrative arc is a quest for legitimacy as a character in his own right, and by its very nature, one that’s doomed to fail.

I find myself thinking of Scaramanga, or the Bond villains as an abstract concept, with his need to prove himself against the heroic protagonist who at once fascinates and repels him. Even Dr. Evil fits the bill: the same actor as Austin Powers, indicated as a villain simply by being dressed up in a Blofeld costume. The fact he’s psychologically immature is appropriate if villainy is essentially derivative, but not strictly necessary.

Of course, the two definitions, opposition and inadequacy, aren’t necessarily incompatible. Let’s take the Solo brothers, Han and Leia’s boys. Fans of Anakin Solo tend to look at Jacen Solo, and see a villain who’s still defining himself in twisted opposition to the genuinely heroic younger brother. Fans of Jacen, on the other hand (among whom Abel may count himself) see him as a Star Wars hero in his own right, fighting his own battles against his own enemies, and his own internal dark side. Maybe they even get annoyed by the ghoulish cult of his dead kid brother, with its totemic use of the younger Solo boy’s shade.

There’s an unsettling relativism here, where a character’s fundamental identity redefines according to the perspective you’re looking at them from. Even the question of whether they have real integrity as an individual produces a completely different answer depending on whose terms you’re defining them in.

If the hero is connected to clarity of perspective, the villain is simply the Other. One man’s compassion may appear to another as a hostile, unwanted dogma. And so, we return to epistemology, and perhaps to linguistics, and the unreliability of both text and criticism—and to the intersection between Star Wars and wider worlds of thought and literature.

Who is the villain? It all depends, as Obi-Wan (or is it Ben?) once said, very much on your point of view. And, of course, that circles us back round—quite unexpectedly—to the idea I put forward yesterday, that the hero in Abel Peña’s work is defined by his consistency, purity, and fidelity to a positive and sincere self-definition. How in the Galaxy can that heroic clarity of meaning coexist with the protean relativism implied when we consider the dynamic saber-dance of the hero against the villain?

It seems like an impossibility, but both sides of the paradox feel just as viscerally real. Maybe the question of how to resolve the paradox, in itself, is the key trick here, the catalyst that defines not just the “what”, but the why of heroes and villains?

And yet, there’s also more I’ve not yet touched on. In discussing Star Wars canon, and the desire to “warp this or that element of Star Wars lore”, Abel links this to the nature of evil itself. It’s a striking—but typical—segue.

This idea draws a connection between evil and creativity itself, suggesting that in every action, and especially translation and interpretation, there lurks the capacity to do great damage.

That’s an idea that’s quite hard to grapple with, I think, but it’s also quite humbling and cautionary. As such, perhaps it’s an appropriate thought with which to end this analysis of Abel’s villains... and indeed, Abel G. Peña week.

Remember, I’m just suggesting here. Think for yourselves?




Well, that’s it for Abel G. Peña week. We hoped you enjoyed this exploration of one of the most impressive authors writing in the Star Wars canon.

If you want to explore further, you can start by visiting Abel's website and his StarWars.com VIP blog.







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