(This was originally posted on my personal Star Wars Tumblr in October of 2018)
When I started reading the New Jedi Order series a few years ago, I knew enough about it to know which books were going to be the Big Ones™. Vector Prime (obvi), Star By Star, and Traitor were all ones that I was looking forward to since I knew they were all huge for their own reasons, and none of them disappointed me. Traitor is the one that I’ve read most recently (I just finished it a few weeks ago), and while I had a LOT of feelings after Star By Star, Jacen Solo has always been my favorite Solo kid and the one I identify with the most, so Traitor really got to me for a lot of reasons.
I think even if I hadn’t known that Jacen wasn’t actually dead after the events of Star By Star, I wouldn’t have believed it. He just winked out of the Force with no explanation of how that actually happened? Not buying it. While I didn’t think that this major character was killed off-screen, I was definitely wondering what happened to him, which was most likely the real purpose of his supposed “death.” Why would he just disappear from the Force? It was honestly a little distracting from the books between Star By Star and Traitor, since I spent so much time wondering what had happened to him. I think I succeeded in not rushing through Dark Journey or the Enemy Lines duology, but it was a relief to finally get to Traitor.
I had heard SO many good things about this book and Matthew Stover’s writing in general, and I was excited to read about Jacen (finally), but I’d also heard that this book is very “gray” in a lot of ways (namely the Force), which had me apprehensive, to say the least. Anyone who knows me personally or listens to my podcast knows that I tend to have a strong distaste for the concept of a “Gray Jedi” simply because I don’t think that that’s how the Force works.
I won’t go into my personal beliefs regarding the Force in much detail here since I could do multiple posts about it, really, but the long and short of it is that the Jedi way teaches passivity and communing with the Force and allowing it to act through you, and the Dark Side encompasses any action that exerts pressure on the Force through someone attempting to bend it to their will. Obviously there are exceptions and nuances within that philosophy, but that’s the best way to sum it up. Seeing as how I believe that Dark Side is always selfish and addictive, I don’t see much room for an individual that can utilize the Dark Side with no consequences.
With this set of beliefs, I knew that Traitor was going to be challenging for me before I even started it. The entire book focuses on Jacen being cut off from the Force by Vergere and him eventually overcoming that hurdle to not only regain his connection, but to obtain an even greater understanding of the Force that allows him to even sense the Yuuzhan Vong and their biological creations.
Throughout the book, Vergere is acting as a sort of mentor for Jacen not only during his period of captivity on board the Yuuzhan Vong worldship, but also during his escape on Coruscant. She feeds him questions that appear to make little to no sense at the time, but eventually lead Jacen to discover this greater connection to the Force of his own accord, and eventually unleash its power quite destructively. The utilization of the darkness inside of him even to save his life leaves him questioning everything he’s ever known about the Force before he eventually becomes this sort of messianic figure near the end of the book, bringing salvation to the New Republic and the Jedi. He almost doesn’t even feel like the same character after his encounter with the Yuuzhan Vong World Brain.
Needless to say, this WAS all very challenging for me. Coming to realize that the Yuuzhan Vong exist not outside of the Force but on some other sort of “Force wavelength” was a very strange idea at first, but the more that I thought about it, the more I became okay with it. I think I can kind of see where this expanded understanding of the Force that this series develops is going. Rather than being “gray” and allowing for use of both sides of the Force with no consequences, it posits that literally everything in the entire universe is connected through the Force, and nothing is more evil than anything else (at least that’s how I understand it). Everything just is, and it all belongs to the Force. There is no “light side” or “dark side,” it’s all just the Force.
Don’t get me wrong. I still don’t agree with this. But I can learn to live with it, if nothing else. At this point in time, Star Wars had to evolve and change, and the New Jedi Order gave it plenty of chances to do that. In the grimdark and morally-ambiguous era of media in the 90s and early 2000s, it only makes sense that something like this would happen at some point. The difference between “using both sides of the Force” and “the Force is everything” is super, super fine, but to me, it’s very important. Having a character walk the middle line with the Force is dumb, but a character who reaches a new understanding of the Force and uses it accordingly isn’t. Maybe I’m just nitpicky, but I’m glad that things ended up working out the way they did.
Honestly my bigger issue with this book is Vergere. As a character, I think she’s fine, but we’ve gotten hints about how powerful she is through not only her abilities, but also through how much she knows about the nature of the Force and the Yuuzhan Vong. She just seems so overpowered and it bugs me. This is totally coming from a place of “no one can be more powerful than my favorite characters and make them look like babies” but so far she’s saved both Mara and Jacen, and she’s acting all ambiguous about everything!! I will say, however, that stories and mysteries like the ones she’s at the center of make me happy that I only know major plot points from the series because I am very curious to see how she affects things in the future, even if I kind of hate her.