The Darth Bane Trilogy

Hey everybody,
I recently finished up reading the third and final book in the Darth Bane trilogy, Dynasty of Evil, and while I’ve usually discussed these books in my end-of-month retrospective blogs, today I thought I’d talk about the final installment, and the trilogy as a whole, in a dedicated post. Let’s dive in!

Dynasty of Evil is the third and final part of the Darth Bane trilogy, and I’ll say this right now: I’m so glad it’s over.

Far from the desolate forests of Ambria, Bane and Zannah are now living in luxury in a mansion on Ciutric IV (I had to look this up, but it’s the setting for X-Wing: Isard’s Revenge – points for that, Drew, at least!) There, Bane poses as a rich merchant with an interest in Sith artifacts, and comes across mention of one Darth Andeddu, who apparently discovered the secret to eternal life. Tired and dismayed that Zannah hasn’t yet challenged him for the title of Sith Lord as befits the Rule of Two, he decides to find Andeddu’s holocron and make himself immortal, to ensure the survival of the Sith.

Meanwhile, on the remote mining world of Doan, a Jedi has been killed while on the hunt for certain Sith amulets. Fearing his death will bring the Council to Doan, the royal family there send Princess Serra to Coruscant to tidy up the situation. Serra is the daughter of the healer Caleb, and discovers how her father died while on the capital world. This leads her down the path of retribution, where she engages the services of the Iktotchi bounty hunter known simply as The Huntress to find Bane and bring him to her.

The Sith amulets have drawn the interest of the Dark Jedi Set Harth, who recovers the artifacts and returns to his penthouse on Nal Hutta. Bane sends Zannah to investigate while he goes off to the Deep Core world Prakith in search of the holocron. Zannah finds Set and decides he’ll do as her apprentice, giving her the impetus to finally challenge Bane. On Prakith, Bane discovers the holocron in a fortress still devoted to the ancient Sith Master, and wrests the knowledge of eternal life forcibly from within while on the journey home. The effort of doing so leaves him exhausted enough that The Huntress is able to overpower him and bring him to Serra on Doan.

Zannah and Set return to Ciutric to find Bane gone, and so they also travel to Doan so that she can defeat her erstwhile Master. However, all hell breaks loose in the prison caverns of Doan; Set abandons Zannah after never really being convinced that the life of a Sith was for him anyway, while Bane and Zannah’s duel is cut short by the imploding caverns. Bane escapes with The Huntress, who is convinced her destiny lies with him, and they travel to Ambria, where Zannah catches up with him. They duel again, but the climax of that duel is somewhat inconclusive…

There is a lot going on here, although the novel’s pacing does leave it feeling like the main bulk of the action takes place on Doan. The set-up bounces between Ciutric, Prakith, Doan, Coruscant and Nal Hutta, before having the protracted sequences in the prison complex, and then that final denouement. Bane going on the trail of yet another holocron was a bit like an action sequence out of a video game. He goes there, kills everyone, takes the holocron, and leaves. All in the space of a chapter. Little to no thought is given to developing Prakith or the cult of Andeddu, more’s the pity.

We’re ten years on from the last book, and Bane is now in his 40s and, inexplicably, old. I suppose the subtext is that the Dark Side ages a person prematurely, but in a galaxy where I thought it was supposed to be a bit like Lord of the Rings (I’m sure at one point it was decided that average human lifespans were in the region of 120 years), having a 40-something with tremors seems a little… off…

I need to talk about the whole character of the book though. Once again, it feels very much like bad fanfiction. Bane and Zannah, posing as brother and sister, live in a fabulous mansion with untold wealth, and it all feels a bit too convenient, somehow. You know how, in the sort of bad fanfiction stories you’d read on the 90s internet, the authors would make their leading characters simply amazing, and they’d have the wealth to not need a day job, and they’d live in mansions without any thought to realism, and be just gorgeous and perfect? I don’t think Zannah is described as gorgeous so much in this book, but we do still get the descriptions of Bane’s rippling muscles and whatnot, and it just doesn’t seem to ring true, somehow. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written my share of fanfic on this very blog, but I suppose I’ve never been under any illusions as to what I was doing! I’ve paid money for this book, and it’s just bad.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on this. Let’s try to pick over the bones a bit more.

Set Harth is a Dark Jedi. He’s tired of the stifling ways of the Jedi Temple, and decides he’d much rather use his Force abilities to live the playboy lifestyle of endless parties and silk shirts open to the midriff. That’s fine – in fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t been thought of before. He hunts down Sith amulets to increase his power, quite why I’m not sure, but it fits somehow with him wanting quick and easy results. The fact he doesn’t seem to do anything with that power notwithstanding, it was interesting to see a Jedi leave the Order and pursue a life dedicated entirely to hedonism. I wonder if he’s one of the Lost Twenty? His storyline with Zannah was one of the more convincing aspects of the book, and I like the fact that he not only makes it out alive by saving his own skin, but he also ends up with Andeddu’s holocron.

Is he a Dark Jedi, really? It’s explained in the book as something of a rogue Jedi, neither Jedi nor Sith. But he never really does anything in the same league as, say, Lumiya or Asajj Ventress. He’s just a bit of a selfish fop who prefers to go to parties than to safeguard peace and justice. I don’t get why he lives on Nal Hutta, because the planet is already under the control of the Hutts and so has presumably been terraformed into the noxious bog-planet that we know and love. Disconcertingly, at one point it is said that he lives on Nar Shaddaa, which would make more sense, although I’m not sure there’s much luxury on the Smuggler’s Moon – but this is 1000 years before A New Hope, remember, so that small point would have helped to distance the novel from the Prequels, a recurring failing for the trilogy otherwise.

The Huntress is a curious one. She’s an Iktotchi, a species with some precognitive ability, which she uses to track her quarry across the galaxy. Okay, I’m buying it so far. She’s able to plan to capture Bane, discovering his identity through her skills (somehow), and then bam! About two-thirds of the way through the book, she’s using the Force. It’s a bit like Mara Jade, going from struggling to do anything in the wake of Palpatine’s destruction, to being a full Jedi Master under the guidance of Luke Skywalker. I have no problem with that, because it hearkens back to the idea that anybody can use the Force with enough training, because the Force is prevalent in all life. Sadly, though, midichlorians are a thing, and I’m not sure the idea of awakening dormant abilities would entirely work, but who knows. Bane takes The Huntress as an apprentice, and gives her the new name of Darth Cognus. When Zannah defeats Bane (or does she?), she takes Cognus on as her own apprentice. Cognus has a long and storied career of her own, mainly chronicled in articles on the now-defunct Hyperspace website. So it was a nice touch to see this backstory fully developed and worked into the chronology.

Darth Bane Trilogy

I think there are two things that I find really problematic about the trilogy. The first has been well-documented since I covered the first book, and that is just how badly-written it is, with flat, one-dimensional characters and no effort to distance itself from the Prequel era despite being set 970+ years before the events of The Phantom Menace. The second is just how pointless the whole thing seems. Darth Bane was developed by George Lucas in the backstory for Episode I, as the founder of the Sith Rule of Two. He’d then made a couple of appearances, and it seems like Drew Karpyshyn was tasked to bring these elements, such as they were, into novel form.

Somewhere in here, there is an interesting story. The disaffected student of the Dark Side, wanting more than Lord Kaan was offering with his Brotherhood of Darkness, engineers the destruction of the Sith Lords he sees as the pretenders, and determines through his own study of ancient texts that the way forward for the Sith is not to share power, but rather to focus it in a single Master, who will train an apprentice to one day take over the mantle. This way, the Sith can work to bring about the destruction of the Jedi and their own eventual triumph. Darth Bane does this, setting himself up in the centre of a network of spies and such, engineering minor border disputes that lays the groundwork for the Separatist movement. He also furthers his knowledge of the Dark Side through the acquisition of Sith artifacts, and visits places of previous Dark Side power from the ancient past.

It’s a story that I can get behind, but the execution is just so poor that I can’t begin to say how disappointed I am with the trilogy. I think this disappointment is further fueled by the fact that the SW book page that I follow on FaceBook is almost rabid in its love for the trilogy. I was surprised at the negative reaction I got when I made a post there, hoping the second book would be better than the first!

It’s such a shame, because Karpyshyn is obviously not a bad writer – he was lead writer on that most beloved of Star Wars games, Knights of the Old Republic, and I don’t recall being this disappointed with his The Old Republic novels Revan and Annihilation. I’ll have to revisit those books at some point, and see if they’re in the same league…

There are so many missed opportunities with this series. While I suppose it was inevitable that Path of Destruction would re-tell the story of Jedi vs Sith, I wish we had been given more context for that conflict because I’m still none the wiser, and reliant on Wookieepedia articles to make sense of this period of time. Rule of Two could have been better, and indeed in some respects was perhaps the best of the trilogy in a weird reversal of the usual “bridge syndrome” trilogies can fall prey to. Dynasty of Evil seems to leave the door open for more Bane, as it is left unclear whether Zannah was in fact victorious, or if Bane succeeded in transferring his essence as per the teachings of Darth Andeddu. Maybe the title refers to the notion that every subsequent Sith Lord in Bane’s model actually has the essence of Darth Bane inside of them? I guess we’ll never know, because these books are now Legends, and while possible to be retained within the new canon timeline because nothing is taking place at this time, I really hope they are left alone.

Flashpoint: Argovon

Hey everybody,

I’ve been looking through a bunch of old White Dwarf magazines to read up on the Warhammer Underworlds articles that I always used to skip, given my new-found obsession with that game, and I thought I’d take a look at the Flashpoint stuff that was published there at the end of 2020. A three-part narrative campaign system, Flashpoint: Argovon System gives a narrative rule set for games that follow the developing story of the Task Force XI.

The system is deep within the Pariah Nexus, and forms a site of strategic importance in the Imperium’s war against the Necrons, which seems to be the main focus for 9th edition. In the first part of the campaign, we have Theatres of War rules for three distinct worlds, as well as a set of eight new Agendas. The planet rules are wonderful additions, giving rules such as ‘Miserable Weather’ on Sarronik, or ‘Avalanche Risk’ on Hishrea. I love stuff like this, though it does tend to be forgotten about when you’re trying to cope with a myriad other rules going on!

The Agendas are very interesting, especially because they’re pretty much all for armies that don’t have codexes yet, so it gives a nice bit of extra crunch when playing games. There is one for the Necrons, though, as we’d probably expect from the narrative. These all gain a mix of war zone points, which contribute to the win conditions, and experience points.

Part two gives correspondingly fewer rules than the first part, but does give us bespoke missions to play. Both are for the Crusade system, which I still need to properly understand but seems to fit strongly with narrative play. Each mission has custom stratagems and agendas, to further add to the unfolding story, though part two is mainly about the xenotech!

A new agenda, Search for Xenotech, allows infantry and biker units to search terrain to gain one point; there are four universal stratagems that can be used for one xp and one cp, giving benefits of cover as well as providing pretty offensive benefits in the shooting phase. Some quite nice effects there, which will perhaps make the agenda action worth performing!

Xenotech continues to be important in the third and final part of the campaign, where players get to choose a stratagem from a list of six on offer, starting with the player who has the most points. The stratagems are quite nice, and I think they’re probably geared towards those armies who don’t yet have a codex to give them more options. I’m not sure I could say they would make it worthwhile gathering as much Xenotech as I could during the previous campaign phase though!

We also get two more Crusade missions, following the story of the Argovon war. Lastly, we have the rules that come at the end of the campaign, assigning battle honours and crusade relics. These are quite nice, as it happens, and the relics are only available to those players with XP. So I guess there’s the incentive!

Overall, there are some pretty great things going on with this idea of Flashpoints – while the rules are perhaps a little more sparse than I’d have thought would come in this kind of thing, I suppose the rules team don’t want to lavish too much work on this kind of transient content. The real meat, though, comes in the narrative bumph included in the articles. Each instalment runs to more than 20 pages, making this about half the size of a regular campaign book from 8th edition. The articles are all written from an in-universe perspective, and alongside the main text we have plenty of additional material, such as journal extracts, and planetary profiles. It really reads like the kind of material you’d find in a sourcebook for a role-playing game. It’s the sort of effort that I really appreciate, and makes me feel ever more justified when my wife asks me why I’m keeping old magazines!

We’re currently now in the middle of the Charadon War Zone, which seems to link in with the Book of Rust, so I guess that we can see these types of Flashpoint articles continue in White Dwarf for a long time to come! They’ve even bled into the Mortal Realms to tie in with the Broken Realms series. It does seem like a great use of space within the White Dwarf magazine – my only criticism of it all really is that it’s coming out in the middle of a global pandemic, when we’re not able to meet up so freely with friends and play games!