Behind Mist and Magic : Worldbuilding in THE COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA
“General Han Solo stood at the command console viewport of the Mon Calamari Star Cruiser Mon Remonda.”
- Opening line of COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA
THE COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA was released in May of 1994, a mere 2 months after JEDI SEARCH and 2 months before the publication of DARK APPRENTICE. The story was authored by renowned Sci-fi and Fantasy writer Dave Farland, under the pen name Dave Wolverton. The story takes place in 8 ABY and is known for the worldbuilding it brought to Star Wars - from the Rancor-riding witches to the illustrious realm of Hapes to the struggle against the Imperial Warlord Zsinj. The foundations of worldbuilding in this book shaped the Expanded Universe for decades to come. Today, we will be exploring how Dave Wolverton accomplished this.
When we normally talk about worldbuilding and stagecraft, many people conjure images about the surface details - geography, cultural quirks, technology, and history. What does the architecture look like? The weapons and armor of the nameless armies in the story? Hairstyles? Language? The truth is those details are about as important as giving a character blond hair or brown skin. The characters that inhabit the world of the story, as we discussed in the previous article, are made up of the characterization (the illusion of believability provided by surface traits) and the deep character (what they represent). The Storyworld takes this same concept and runs with it - adding more layers and dealing with the interaction of these elements over the course of the story. At it’s heart, it still functions the same as a character when it comes to dimensionality and revealing its true nature when pressure is asserted on it if it is a living or symbolic stage (societies, institutions, certain starships, the Force, etc).
In the old days, if you wanted to tell a lasting story you had to carve that story into stone. It is an art we call architecture (and yes, it does tell a story through intentional design). Today, architecture has lost it’s use as a medium for symbolic storytelling. We’ve traded in the literal stone to write a story on for one of metaphorical stone. This architectural structure is the foundation of the world and stage. The invisible story (a stage’s deep character) informs the visible (it’s characteristics). JURASSIC PARK was about parenthood and what we can control within that context (chaos theory). TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY was about the family unit and adult responsibility. The THRAWN trilogy, which we’ll look at next, explores the differences between the Alliance and the Empire. This is why we see so many familiar, yet inverted, lines of dialog and scenes. THE COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA has Feminist theory as its anagogical structure, and explores notions of sexism and social responsibility through this structure.
The anagogical structure is an invisible element that permeates the whole of the story, a subtext that aggressively defines what can (and should) happen in the text. It is tangential to the high concept of the story premise and it is more encompassing than a central theme due to it’s ability to dictate the stage and unify every theme present. What makes the anagogical structure so difficult to study is the fact that it is invisible in the text and never shows its face directly. This means that in order to see it and see how it has shaped the surface narrative, we have to delve deeply into symbolism, metaphor, allegory, and other forms of subtext. This has nothing to due with individual interpretation however. All the symbolism in the story that deal with a story element’s function or focus will lead back to a singular concept or idea.
Before we go any further, I want to point out Feminist theory has been a major part of literary and film critique for decades. Some people don’t like Feminism - and sure, there are valid reasons for such feelings ranging from unfortunate encounters with transphobic ‘feminist’ to having dealt with those who are only interested in helping the able, middle-class, white demographics while eschewing others and intersectionality - but regardless of how you feel about it, this is the proper academic term for what we’ll be looking at. To those who believe I’m trying to impose my feminist views on you, know that this is more than just my interpretation on a central theme because, as the anagogical structure, it informs everything in the story (as we’ll see). The anagogical structure determines the function and focus of any given element within the story which is why we’re looking at it specifically for worldbuilding. Some aspects of Feminist theory in media, like the concept of “Women in refrigerators” was not made popular until years later and the specific event which named that particular phenomenon wouldn’t happen until months after COURTSHIP was published, and thus it does not recognizably appear in in the anagogical structure of the story. Had COURTSHIP been written and published at a later date when such concepts were more clearly identified and understood, we certainly would have seen them show up or elements of the story slightly modified to explore the concept. Other concepts found their way into elements related to the anagogical structure of COURTSHIP, such as intersectional feminism forming the deep character of Tenel Ka Djo during the subsequent YOUNG JEDI KNIGHT series for example.
When we know what the anagogical structure of a story is or will be, we can start dissecting it to determine how those elements will make up the story. Again, it cannot be stressed enough that the invisible story defines the visible. The better you know the anagogical structure of the story, the quicker and more efficient your edits and story planning will go because it informs you the direction the story wants to go in. Before you can write a story, you have to write the invisible one first or go back, analyze what you wrote in a rough draft, and heavily edit it to follow the unintended invisible story you now have on your hands.
To experience any story, we first have to have a storyteller, an audience, and a stage. These are not mutually exclusive, the storyteller can be their own audience. The importance of the stage is in how we experience that story; How it’s communicated to us. This covers more than simply the medium of a story but why we tell and listen to stories in the first place.
Why do we have stories of spaceships when most of us have never been into space? Or visited another world? Cast magical spells? Meet an ancient godling when going to the market? Lived the troubled life of a youth among Danish royalty? Walked the streets of ancient rome? Messed up the timeline? Fled from hungry dinosaurs? Hid from the hordes of loitering, mindless deceased? Why do we tell these stories to each other in the first place?
We tell stories to share experiences. To explore what it means to be human. To live lives that are not our own. There is a famous quote regarding this that, ironically, many don’t know comes from a fictional character. In the book, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, by George R. R. Martin, the character Jojen states, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one.” But why do we do this?
The answer lies in our desire to survive and navigate our world more successfully. For the purposes of brevity and simplicity, I’m going to focus on 3 layers of engagement the human brain performs. It is when all three of these layers (surface, social, and abstract) come together that a story will be remembered by the audience. This won’t guarantee your story sells beyond your wildest dreams - the only formula remotely capable of that feat is called Marketing Hype - but this will cement the story in the minds of the audience for years to come. We remember characters and events because they have helped us survive and navigate our world better. We’ve learned about being human from them. Armed with this knowledge of how we need to frame a story, we can set the stage.
In the case of using Feminism for our anagogical structure, we have tropes like the Mary Sue, the Straw Feminist, that the hero gets the girl, concepts like sexism, the male gaze, social justice and responsibility, the behavior of allies, and the influence of the media. We learn about all of this in a narrative form when we read COURTSHIP. Keep this in mind as we go through the symbolism and setup of the story. It would be impossible to fully point out the top-down way the anagogical structure was utilized in the writing process, so I’m going to point out how the embodied puzzle pieces intersect each other. It is my hope you’ll be able to then be able to see how each one of these elements was shaped by the invisible anagogical structure and can work backwards from them. We will not be covering everything, but we will be covering enough that you should be able to see the woven pattern of concepts that make up the invisible story.
“Great! Han realized. So I caught a rope. But the villagers here seemed to think it was a big deal. They were all ecstatic….Why, once Han thought about it, there was no telling what you could do with a whuffa!”
The deepest layer of engagement is the abstract. This layer is utterly invisible within the story. It is the home of metaphor, allegory, subtext, symbolism, and a source of hate for failing literature study students the world over. It’s also something of a lost art. Today we think of only a subset of this notion where the abstract element is intermittent and separate throughout the story. One popular way to phrase this today is “the curtains were blue”, describing the way literary analysis reads secondary meaning into elements of the story when the author simply meant “the curtains were simply blue.” In the past, as far back as the medieval and renaissance eras, multiple forms of Allegory existed that specifically stretched throughout the entire story and could even transcend a story to others.
Within the layers of story, this particular overarching element engages a part of the brain known as the neocortex. The Neocortex is responsible for functions like complex language and learning. When a story deals with elements such as good and evil, Chaos Theory, social transitions, the meaning of a story - it’s all being processed by the Neocortex. We remember this element because the information can be applied to our ability to navigate the world. Let's take a look at stories regarding the temptation of desire (we’ll call these Sirens), and have two boats sail past them. Each of these boats represents a way to deal with temptation. One will utilize a well played lyre to play more beautiful music and drown out the temptation. The other boat will see the captain will set up a scenario (tied to the mast while the crew wear wax earplugs) where the temptation cannot be acted upon. Those of you familiar with the Argonauts and the Odyssey can see where I’m going with this. Through the act of these fictional characters sharing their experiences with the audience, the audience in turn learns how to better navigate their own world. The human brain is incredible good at recognizing patterns and you’re not always aware of this happening. You still consume this information nonetheless. If there is a coherent pattern to the invisible subtext of a story, you’re going to remember seemingly unrelated elements because your brain knows that information is going to be important and is apart of the message of the underlying lesson that will help it survive. It can be some deep symbolism regarding what makes the family unit important (GODFATHER) or a silly introduction where each of the team takes turns acting as a parent to a baby tree in the middle of their daily life in a film about parenthood (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2).
Let me give you an example of this in action. The T-rex in the 1993 film, JURASSIC PARK, represents Allan's parental nature. At first, it's terrifying and dangerous (because he's been neglectful towards the children). Then when the gallimimus show up, it represents his responsibility as a parent - the gallimimus also threatened them as a stampede which is why the Rex ate one of them. Therefore, when Grant puts himself in front of his symbolic family towards the end when facing the raptors the T-Rex that represents those instincts now has to protect them from the raptors in the story. The invisible story and subtext has informed the visual narrative. It sets the framework of what you can do with it. The logic of the surface story has little to do with it by comparison (How did the T-Rex get in there without anyone noticing...especially when there is a jeep outside full of unarmed people to eat as well?). We don’t care about the finer details of the surface story, we care about the hidden story regarding the nature parenthood. In one of the alternative endings of JURASSIC PARK, you have Hammond shooting a raptor (a parental symbol still coming to the rescue) and in another the T-Rex attacks the helicopter causing grant to dangle/almost fall (as if his parental fear might still try to follow him instead safeguarding his family). While both of these can work within the framework of the story, because it’s Alan’s parental instincts that is defending his symbolic family when he places himself between them and the raptors, the most powerful story is one where the T-Rex strictly adheres to its role in the invisible story. That is the anagogical structure in action. We don’t want to see a T-Rex at the end simply because it is a T-Rex. We want to see it because it’s an important cue to a very human story. At the beginning of the film, Alan is the metaphorical raptor - slashing at a kid with his raptor claw even. By the end, we have a shift in his character represented by the symbol that is the T-Rex but we haven’t seen the Rex in this role yet. That’s why we want to see it again.
In the last article, we explored how the Force represented the symbolism of identity. This time, the Force has a different meaning. The Force represents social responsibility, and the Jedi represent social justice and morality. Because the book tackles sexism in much of it’s symbolism, it should come as no surprise justice and responsibility are tackled on a societal level. The Force, both the light and the dark, represent this. It actually goes beyond the mystical energy field wielded by some of the characters, the version of Sabacc Han plays has a force related theme. It’s no accident that this is also where his path first crosses with Luke by way of coming across Dathomir. Even the way this version of Sabacc is played is influenced by the fact the Force theme represents society, forcing players to potentially work together. This form of Sabacc exists in service of the symbolism of the Force and Han’s theme crossing with Luke’s. When Teneniel uses the dark side to murder a few nightsisters in the heat of a moment, it’s Kirana Ti who points it out and brings her back from the edge. Being the only witch to act on this symbolism, it should come as no surprise that Kirana Ti goes on to become a Jedi Knight. Any one of the witches could have but it up but that is the reason Kirana Ti was the one to do so. As a force-wielding society, the important law of theirs we learn about in the book (we don’t learn the rest until RPG supplements are released) is “Never cede to evil”. It’s brought up when Han wants to destroy the Falcon once and for all, but the witches refuse the notion. It would have been the easy solution to a moral problem. However, it wouldn’t have solved the real problem of the nightsisters or the fact they had nearly completed a ship. What made the nightsisters strong in the first place was the apathy of society - they didn’t confront them. We see sexism and societal injustice all the time and the point of “Never cede to evil” is that it will only get worse if you do nothing. It’s the old saying that evil wins when good people stay silent. It is because of this, the witches decide to fight. We see the war room scene because it makes it clear to us that this will not be an easy victory or a costless one. It’s a battle waged by the society itself - no one gets to sit it out, no one gets to retreat from it. The symbolism dictates you need these elements present in society and are important enough in the society to seamlessly define the surface story.
This brings us to systematic oppression within the symbolism of the stage. Sexism, racism, oppression of any kind on a societal level is systematic in nature. It is the “death from a thousand cuts”. Small injustices that build up because another one hits you before you’ve dealt with the first. When such injustices are looked at individually, they can be hand waved as insignificant by those who don’t face them in context. That the victims are just being overly sensitive. This oppression generally comes in four different types and they go on to form the backbone of Dathomir and Hapes. First you have the Ideological oppression - the mere idea that one group is better than another. They’re more intelligence, harder working, more advanced, chosen, and so on. This is defining for both Dathomir and Hapes, in how they treat others and how they themselves are treated. We’ll get back to this in a second. There is Institutional oppression - where the control of another lies in the institutions of society such as laws, hiring policies, political power, police practices, and so forth. We see this in the socially acceptable options for men who aren’t interested in their captors that Teneniel lays out to Isolder. Teneniel’s theme deal with the institutional which is why she is the one to display and explain this concept. There is Interpersonal Oppression - that which gives permission and reinforcement for individual members of the dominant group to personally disrespect or mistreat others. We see this coming from the nightsisters and the way they are cruel to the male heroes because they also represent apathy towards others in society. The two are linked. Finally, there is Internalized Oppression - the negative beliefs and justifications for the way the victim is treated that is held by the victim themselves. We see this in Isolder where the Hapan cultural ideas about men brought up time and time again in his own thoughts. He believes he has the highest power because he chooses to whom he relinquishes it to….which as Leia notes, is a facade. We learn later he never truly had this “power” anyways, it was only perceived on his part. Not only are these experienced in the surface level of the story, but the Hapan and Dathomiri cultures are centered around highlighting these concepts to the audience. They were created from these notions as the anagogical structure informs the visible story. The Dathomiri are centered on a theme of hostile oppression while the Hapans on the theme of benevolent oppression. The Dathomiri are looked down on by outsiders as, primitive, criminals, barbaric, poor, uneducated, and uncivilized. These descriptors go on to make up the bulk of their history and culture. They were originally prisoners of a penal colony. They don’t have space flight. They are uneducated about the Force. They don’t have the means to fight “superior” foes by strength of traditional arms, instead having ancient bladed weapons and old blasters. When humans are generally faced with this kind of oppression, it's common for people to put more value on communal and family ties (such as minority community districts and single-demographic safe groups) which is where the social structure of the Dathomiri come from. Those who are apathetic to the community’s plight are a danger, especially en masse. This is where the concept of the nightsisters come from and why they are defined as being out for themselves. The Hapans are looked up to and admired by contrast as the bar is set incredibly high. They have to present themselves as better than everyone else in every way possible, from beauty to technology to art to being chosen ones. To be marred, like Tenel Ka is later on in the EU, is considered a fate worse than death for them. They were literally chosen (and it wasn’t a good thing because this is built on symbolic oppression) in their history. The weapons technology on their Battle Dragons is the embodiment of the “death from a thousand cuts” I mentioned above - each cannon by itself is insignificant but in context, another blast is going to hit the target before it can recover from the first. This shapes their history and the worlds they come from just as Dathomir was shaped. Of particular note, any time you have benevolent sexism embedded in a human social structure, you will see infighting. There is a competition for what little power can be had by adhering to the system better than others in the group, it doesn’t matter if it’s a game show, a high-school cliche, dick-measuring contests, or a monarchy. This is what informed the deadly intrigues Hapes has become famous for. Naturally, the embodied pinnacle of Hapan society, the Ta’a Chume, is gifted at handling these intrigues that are a hallmark of Hapes.
The finale theme I’m going to touch on is filtered reality. The importance of this is the way it defines the action of the characters themselves. We’ll get into this more when we discuss story structure in the next article but the world of the story shapes and determines what the characters experience as they navigate it. Both Han and Isolder go through this as they navigate their own internal sexism that drives the symbolic plot. It is one of the great obstacles that has to be overcome. comes in a number of forms, the most common of which is subconscious judgement. We shield ourselves in bubbles that are very difficult to penetrate. It keeps too much of reality from overwhelming us. As a human phenomenon, it’s much more widespread than many realize and affects us in everyday life. It can be as simple as “I don’t eat that kind of food” or “I like canonical Expanded Universe stories over the Infinities stories.” The person listening will sometimes get defensive about it. What happens is we often view these statements not as they are meant and delivered at face value, but through the light of “well what does that say about me?” Thought and effort went into the decision of liking this set of stories over that one so what does that say about my taste? This are everyday things that cause us to get defensive and double down on our bubble and stances. I bring them up to point up how normal and common the behavior is. What is of interest to us in this article is the less than mild variety. If racism and sexism are systematic and we’re apart of the system, then what does it say about us? We don’t like being thought of as the “bad guy” and so we go to extraordinary lengths to deny anything that might point to a problem. In the modern western world, you can see some people claiming “sjws/feminazis/the jews/[insert boogeyman of choice]” are “taking their games/films/childhood/[insert anything really] away” for simply discussing any form of systematic oppression. It can get more extreme but we don’t need to touch on that for COURTSHIP. As a phenomenon, this concept has been heavily touched upon in one way or another since the dramatic plays of ancient Greece. COURTSHIP is no different. Going through this journey makes up the central pillars of the story. Teneniel experiences this journey. She symbolically, and nearly literally, dies at the hands of the nightsister (apathy) Ocheron (misinformation) and her Imperial allies (the outside world). This starts her on her journey that shatters how she thinks her world works. Han goes through it. He’s unaware and cannot see how his unconscious sexism is in fact looking down on Leia. This is what he needs to overcome, but it’s not an easy process. He regresses more and more as he tries to keep his view of how reality works intact. The symbolic death to reach Dathomir (the Inner World) is the shattering of his preconceived notions and the beginning of him learning how to overcome that obstacle. Isolder also goes through it. Like Han, he experiences a symbolic death to get to Dathomir which signals the destruction of the bubble he has wrapped himself in. On his journey, he learns to recognize the problems within Hapan society (the false fantasy he has also projected onto Leia). Both of these later symbolic deaths happen at the hands of the Empire (The Outside world), which is why the planet is interdicted in the visible story. The Invisible story informs the visible. This applies to both worldbuilding and the structure of the plot. It is the stage that pulls them through this journey.
There is a second part of this invisible level that makes up the medium techniques. From camera angles to lighting to literary descriptions to gameplay to the artwork. This part of the layer will be covered in a separate article. For this article, we’re focusing on the anagogical structure because it is the most important part of framing your story for the audience and getting that same audience to remember your story for years to come.
“Annoying is the word,” Han answered. “I mean, it’s not as if I wished you were dead or anything. Neutered perhaps--not dead.”
This brings us to the second level of engagement. What’s the relationship between the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and John (Edward Furlong) in T2: JUDGEMENT DAY? Why are scenes like “My Sister! My daughter!” from CHINATOWN remembered decades later? Same with Vader telling Luke “I am your father”. This is the second layer of engagement which utilizes the limbic system of the brain. It deals with the social aspects of the story - the relationships explored between characters. It handles the emotions and motivations we experience and the empathy for the characters. If the surface layer is the pure visible layer of a story, this social layer contains both visible and invisible elements - often also acting as the bridge between them. We remember information taken in on this level because humans are social creatures who need to know how to navigate and understand a range of social situations. You have to know how x could relate to y in any number of situations, regardless if we’re looking at characters or concepts. We don’t need to sympathize with the story characters, but we do have to empathize with them to better navigate our own world. And the keyword is empathize. Narratives that describe a threat will be forgotten years latter when the brain believes the threat is no longer credible. Scare propaganda constantly needs to be applied and altered because of this. With empathy, however, it doesn’t matter if your audience is busy constructing the ancient pyramids, fighting off the Persians, watching an online streaming service on the couch, or a bored near-human descendant hanging out in a colony in the Alpha-Centauri system. We will always need to understand others. Empathy is the first frontier of single celled organisms learning to work together, to the last frontier of understanding life from the furthest reaches of the universe. Within ancient Hellenism, the art of story was considered a divine craft and yet the stories of the deities were not considered to be set in stone. They could be changed as humans learned more about their relationships to each other and the world. In many ways, we are still telling these sort of stories to navigate our lives albeit we rarely dress our characters up as gods and goddesses to do so. We are always going to need to understand the nature of the world/s around us and those beings that populate it. Now, simply declaring one character the father of another and than having one of them die at the other’s hands does not make for a great story. As much as every hollywood formula adherent would like it to, there’s a reason we can’t recall the thousands of fanfics that are built on that premise of x is somehow related to y!
COURTSHIP plays with a number of romance tropes in clever ways to emphasize certain experiences. Yes, both Isolder and Han play the trope of damsels in distress. But that isn’t the only romantic trope the story comments on. The belief that ‘the hero should get the girl’ is a regular cause of suffering for Han Solo. He is the returning hero from his war against Zsinj but that doesn’t make Leia his. The belief that Leia owes him something for years of love and devotion is another example. He learns she owes him nothing, that what affection she gives him is hers to give. Nothing he does, or has, will yield more affection. Affection isn’t an award, it’s a gift. Leia loves him, and as she says in as early as scene 7, “...so don’t listen to them. Listen to me. I love you for what you are - remember?” It is emphasized point blank by the character of Leia, yet for most of the early novel, we’re following Han’s perspective. So while it was stated point blank, Han never realizes it - which means the audience is never treated to descriptions supporting it. We are treated with plenty regarding Isolder’s mannerism towards Leia though and we’re treated to the intimidating visuals of Isolder’s amazonian bodyguards a few times. When we are seeing things from the perspective of others, like Leia, do we see otherwise. It’s not until later in the book that this reverses for scenes following Han’s general perspective. It is not understanding the difference of an award and a gift that nearly pushes her away due to the way he treats her and the “camera focus” reinforces that. This is part of “show, don’t tell” people unfamiliar with the medium of novels and short stories tend to overlook. The medium is as much of a stage as anything in the story’s world.
In visual mediums, like film, this can manifest by what is in focus for the camera or what is in the picture frame for a given shot. For a book, this is often what defines which descriptions the audience gets and which they do not. For example, sensualism in the description of the characters. The Male Gaze is a staple of Feminist theory. Mulvey initially argued that it was a part of a language that treated a group as objects (passive role) to be acted upon (active role). While this is typically applied and thought about as women being the objects for men to act on (often in service of a gaze or sex appeal), it arguable isn’t specific to these demographics due. The modern defining element of this concept is where agency and power lies - is the person in question the one with the power or does that power lie with someone else. A character might dress in a revealing outfit in a story, but are they dressing as such for their own motivations or for the motivation of someone else (usually, the audience. This subconcept is often called Fan Service)? Now that we know what it is, lets see how it was used in the story. Isolder, being stunningly handsome, is naturally the most obvious target of the ‘male gaze’ by the natives of Dathomir. From the way Teneniel proceeds to subject Isolder to the Dathomiri hunting...er...mating rituals at the lake to the casual forcefulness of their interactions, Prince Isolder is regularly objectified in ways that are mundane to Teneniel. Isolder is also forced into the role of ‘damsel in distress’, particularly when a nightsister tries to capture him for her own nefarious intentions, where he is saved by Teneniel. He is the passive object to be admired by the females who have the power in a situation. Of particular note are the descriptions in the book. Leia’s appearance is rarely described or commented on but Isolder’s is brought back to the reader’s attention time and time again. Why? Because he’s fanservice and subjected to the male gaze. His looks are initially the only reason why he has any worth to Teneniel while on Dathomir. This never becomes inverted. While Isolder begins to find Teneniel interesting (describing her as somewhat plain by Hapan standards), even in the bathing scene (which importantly, doesn’t undermine its purpose by offering the reader sensual descriptions), Isolder is aware that she isn’t trying to entice him. Isolder is subjected to the male gaze constantly, and by contrast, Teneniel never is.
By determining the focus of a scene, you also determine the context of that scene. In dealing with the Whuffa, Han is interacting with himself and the symbols there of. He’s looking into what amounts to a mirror of his own reflection, contemplating the way he’s being treated (which is the way he treated Leia turned back at him). And then he has to struggle to get this monstrous worm out of the ground - it’s longer than he first suspects and has buried itself very deeply too. Getting the Whuffa out of the ground isn’t an easy process either. It requires constant effort and work, being vigilant to the worm’s flared up resistance, and getting help from peers. It’s set up this way for to provide context for scene. I hate to break this revelation to you all, but in the real world we can’t solve the problem of sexism with spaceships and magical powers. The effort of dealing with internal sexism within ourselves is much closer to the struggle for the Whuffa worm. Getting the worm out is only a viable symbol if we set up the scene’s context properly. As such, the focus is on the reflection in the water and the internal strife of the character before the worm makes its appearance. Without that context, the act of getting the Whuffa becomes unimportant and meaningless to the story. If the focus was shifted to Han examining the Dathomiri village, the people in it, or left out entirely due to how tired Han was, it would fall flat within the story. The anagogical structure defines more than the mere function of elements within a story, but tells you where you need to direct the audience's focus as well.
Function and focus of an element can overlap and even intentionally conflict. Nothing is remembered more about COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA then witches riding rancors. It is both incredible and terrifying. What does it mean though? Why does it stick in our heads? The answer comes down to the dual meaning of the rancors and how those meanings compliment each other. On the one hand, the Dathomiri rancors have replaced men in Dathomiri society. As Isolder notes, “...you treat rancors as friends but treat men as slaves.” Yes, the rancor is a terrifying creature in it’s own right but they’re hardly a threat to any of the heroes in COURTSHIP due to them being aligned with the witches. In fact, despite the focus being on their fearsome nature, the function they play is always helpful. The Rancors here are bigger and more intelligent than we see in other Star Wars media like Return of the Jedi. They have their own language, bond with the witches, and have a mutual partnership that normally is occupied by males in a society. They represent a fear that men can be replaced. It’s why the men of Dathomir fear them beyond any visible layer of a story on Dathomir. And the reason for this fear comes from the other part of the symbolism - they represent the agency of the witches. Just as Han was afraid to let Leia make her own choice, so too are some people afraid to give agency to others. The exiled Jedi, Allya, teaching her daughters how to tame the Rancors is symbolic of them being given agency and power - hence why it’s done through the Force (as opposed to animal handling). The rancor companions allow the witches to travel, hunt, climb mountains and cross rivers, build structures, all with ease. The bond affords them the ability to live their lives. In this way, the functional role of the rancors in each scene is reinforced by the way the rancors are also presented to the audience.
Contrast this to the role of men in Dathomiri society. The focus says one thing: that men are looked down on due to hostile sexism. But outside of Teneniel, do we ever see it manifest? Well, not in this book. The function plays a different role here. It is a way of diluting surface story elements that would get in the way of the focus. The scene where we see the most from Dathomiri men is the Whuffa worm segment where they are helpful to Han and none of that is present. That’s because the symbolism of that element is wrapped up in Teneniel as far as COURTSHIP is concerned. This was done in service of the symbolism that makes up Dathomiri society so that it could change by proxy of Teneniel’s character growth instead of needing to be addressed directly. This was also done to help reinforce Isolder’s revelation regarding how other cultures had such sexism embedded in their courting traditions that he was fine with due to how normal they seemed to him.
“You shouldn’t do this!” Isolder found himself saying. “The universe doesn’t work this way!”
“What do you mean?” Luke asked.
“You--you’re treating those beasts as equals. You show my mother, the Ta’a Chume of the Hapan empire, the same degree of cordiality as you give a droid!”
Finally, the surface layer of storytelling handles the immediate engagement we have. Our desire to know if we’re in danger or need to be extra attentive to catch something small in a tense situation, simply heightens our awareness to the story. Motion on a screen for example, or the dance on a stage. Even the visuals of your imagination. You can be looking at very beautiful eye candy but once the spectacle is over, you forget it. As engagement, it will keep you seated - but once the brain realizes it doesn’t need all that information it just took in, it’s gone. Quick, what are the names of the hero characters in film, JURASSIC WORLD? It wasn’t released that long ago…. This is because, JURASSIC WORLD, for all its spectacle and visuals, only engaged the audience on this most basic level.
Due to how far away they are from the anagogical structure, they hold a weaker relationship to it. Their meaning is found on the level of the implied and reinforcement of ideas. When worldbuilding is brought up, this is the only part of the entire process most people think about. And it comes last.
When Han is regressing inward, he falls back to working on the Falcon. Adding and testing a few modifications in a junkyard around Coruscant. This junkyard is filled with memories of the Galactic Civil War where he meet Leia. Inside of the rusted heart of an old Victory Star Destroyer, he tests the new systems for his flight to Dathomir. He believes the systems will help him get through Imperial space, which Dathomir is likewise in the middle of. This one actually serves a double purpose of foreshadowing what happens next and implying his state of mind.
Leia’s story arch centers around social pressure, particularly, on a societal level to the survivors of Alderaan. A great many of the elements of Alderaan we see have to deal with the traditions and cultural importance they hold. The Arrallute flower, and the history of it she tells Isolder, is there to reinforce the idea of her struggle with social pressure on Alderaan’s behalf. The flower has it’s tradition stepped in concepts of the creation of new life, assisting the theme of Alderaan’s survivors seeking new beginnings. This flower makes it’s appearance at the same time as she is discussing the Hapan proposal with Isolder and the Verpine-Barabel situation escalates. This flower shows up only once again, this time at the end of the story, during Han and Leia’s wedding. Once again, it reinforces the notion of new life, this time in the form of motherhood.
In Star Wars, we hadn’t seen much of what we now would label dark side corruption before this point. We knew Darth Vader was more machine than man and the Emperor looked sinister, but other darkside users didn’t necessarily have that level of corruption - such as the dark Jedi master in the Thrawn trilogy or Lumiya in the earlier Marvel comics. In COURTSHIP however, it is something that affects the nightsisters universally. It serves as the continuation and payoff of an earlier element from the Verpine and the way they saw a “mad queen” separated from society as an illness. Similarly, with the Dathomiri we see those who separated themselves from society develop an sickness-like visual of bursted blood vessels. It is a reinforcement of the concept of societal health.
The way the Dathomiri dress tells us a good deal about them. The clothing was based off practicality and protection. They pulled heavily from their environment. What was the most ornate were the highly individualistic helms and headdresses. They valued individual autonomy in addition to their mindfulness of social and ecological institutions. It reinforced why they wanted the deed to the planet even if such a thing was a mere formality that by and large didn’t fit within their cultural idea of ownership.
As the witches represented social institutions, the animals of Dathomir naturally make up the ecosystem - the ecological institutions if you will - of Dathomir. The Blue Mountain People were fairly large lizards that moved in pacts across the land in herds. In order to get water and food, they had to travel for miles at certain times of day and moved as a single unit across the terrain for safety. They’re encountered when emphasis needs to be put on Luke socially treating everyone equally. Creatures like the Drebbin were preyed on by the rancors but were still dangerous creatures (as Han discovered). The only Drebbin we hear about was, according to Teneniel, put in that specific cave by the witches to one day make a good meal for the rancors. This happens at a time when the relationship between people and social institutions comes up for the heroes and puts emphasis on it by providing a parallel between the social institution of the witches and the ecological institutions of wildlife.
Now there are other surface elements of worldbuilding but because they’re not related to the deeper story, they’re irrelevant. To put it another way, the curtains are blue, because their color doesn’t have a function in the story. It’s there to be apart of the illusion we wrap the story in to keep the audience seated throughout the experience. Nothing more. That said, when working in a visual medium, even things like color can (and will often for that matter) fall under the abstract and relational layer of a story. But that’s another article regarding visual mediums.
Perhaps Teneniel had the right answer. She just looked at Isolder and laughed. “ ‘I will choose the next queen mother,’ “ she mocked, feigning his accent surprisingly well. “ ‘I have all the power!’ “ She shot a wicked smile over her shoulder as she rubbed down the rancor, and she laughed, “You’re so dumb!”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the social and relational layer is what connects the abstract story to the surface story. It occupies a space of both visible and invisible. As with everything else dictated by the anagogical structure, it’s the focus and function of the story elements that is important. By knowing what actions and themes our stage will be used to explore, we can better understand what the stage needs to look like.
Because the THRAWN trilogy is 3 books, we will not be looking at how the overall anagogical structure and scene weave is set up in the next article. While we go through the major pillars of COURTSHIP, keep an eye out for how story elements and meanings cross in the structure of the story. The way these cross in a story is informed by the anagogical structure. It affects more than just the space a story takes place in, but time and event sequences as well.
The story begins with Han returning to Coruscant a hero after battling (and presumably defeating), warlord Zsinj. In fact the very first line positions him as the man in control. Keep in mind, COURTSHIP was published in 1994 and X WING: SOLO COMMAND, which further details the war against Zsinj, wasn’t published until 1999. COURTSHIP was Zsinj’s first appearance and mention in the Star Wars EU. Han doesn’t return the hero randomly, but does so to represent the concept that ‘the hero gets the girl’. It’s done in service of the anagogical structure. Now, the idea that ‘the hero gets the girl’ is a form of sexism, namely of a possessive nature. In this trope, the female isn’t making a choice of who she loves but is instead framed as the reward, consciously or not. The theme for the character of Han Solo, who arguable is the main character of this story, is him dealing with his own internal sexism. The first sign of trouble for him comes in the form of the Ta’a Chume greeting Leia as an equal. Much has been said and pointed out regarding how misogynistic his actions were in films like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but the character remains unaware of this possessiveness towards Leia. As such, when the Hapans begin to treat Leia as an equal, Han is unaware about why it upsets him. Han and Isolder have a confrontation in the hanger of Leia’s ship, the Rebel Dream, while Han is working on the Falcon. Isolder turns Han’s title of ‘Leia’s savior’ into a verbal jab. The Hapan Prince goes on to identify Han’s possessive view of Leia, offering him a Nova cruiser in trade and pointing out the aforementioned tope “General Solo is a warrior, and he wishes to do battle for the woman he loves. That is the warrior’s way.” Unfortunately for Han, he doesn’t have the experience to puncture the bubble that blinds him to this fault. Unwilling to change, he pushes back harder which is when he starts distancing himself from Leia (who already has a feminist view of the world). “...All of it ran against her most deeply ingrained beliefs about how people should act towards one another.” Han gets desperate and descends into society’s (Coruscant) subconscious. There, he crosses Luke’s theme by way of the Force-suite version of Sabacc - The Force represents social responsibility and Han’s lack of awareness of it is why he wins with the darkside hand. In the process, he gains access to his own Internal World (Dathomir). He then gets relationship advice from 3PO (who represents the influence of media), and in the visual text is given media (songs and poetry) and reassurance (a false claim that he is a prince) that the trope ‘the hero (the archetypal prince) gets the girl’. He still hasn’t learned and begins to regress from the stress of the world not working the way he believes it should. He begins shirking his duties as he turns inworld, hiding away on the Falcon with his memories (the smuggling components and the junkyard full of mementos from the Rebellion’s war he meet Leia in). By scene 18, he has formally resigned his commission. Unable to convince Leia, he impromptuly uses the Gun of Command (a huge block of symbolism we’ll cover a bit later) on her. Here the ugliness of Han’s misogyny is laid bare. Even Chewie wants to inflict harm on Han. Han believed he was owed something for his love and devotion. He thinks some right combination of accomplishment or act will result in her falling in love with him - he still is approaching her as an award to be won and not as someone who can make her own choice regarding her own life. The cost of this is the loss of the Falcon and then Chewie’s protection when the later is wounded. Needing to learn the importance of empathy towards women, the first thing the women of Dathomir set Han to is mining for Whuffa worms (a symbolic internal demon of misogyny). He confronts this demon by staring at a reflection of himself in a dark and shallow pool while contemplating how uncomfortable it was to be thought of solely by his relationship to Leia. Finally, it appears and is larger and buried deeper into the ground than he first thought. With great effort and help from the rest of the men in the village, he succeeds. Upon his success, he reflects on how useful pulling more of these Whuffa out from the ground could be to galactic society. Following this challenge, Han is introduced to the Nightsisters, who subject him to a form of the Male Gaze. Not just in terms of how they physically view him, but by way of Han being treated as an object for an agent not himself (the nightsisters) to act upon. When it comes to the deed for Dathomir, Han sees the seriousness of the witch’s autonomy as a joke. He believes he was tricked, with Leia’s help, into a deal with them. He hasn’t learned but he does give Augwynne the deed to the planet “for safekeeping...until it was earned if nothing else”. This first step towards acknowledging the autonomy of women is when Leia first compliments him. She is clear she doesn’t love him for it, but that it has made him a better person. For brevity's sake, we’ll jump ahead to when Han has embraced his responsibilities and has become a much better person. He embarks in a one-way journey to confront Gethzerion (the straw feminist that represents his fears of giving women power). Most importantly, he has gained respect for Leia’s choices, telling her directly “You made a good choice. Really.” This act doesn’t cause Leia to fall in love him, but he doesn’t need it to because of his journey.
Chewbacca in this story represents a subset of Han’s internal character made manifest, namely, his conscience. When Chewbacca is wounded, Han is vulnerable. When Chewie is angry at Han, it is because Han is angry at himself. A good example of this in action is when Han confronts Gethzerion in a suicide mission - and Chewie isn’t present and nor do we see him try to talk Han out of it. As a symbol of Han’s subconscious, he serves the anagogical structure by both protecting his friends, the Falcon (another symbol of Han’s internal self), and allowing Han to confront the symbol he internally fears (Gethzerion represents a straw feminist) in all his vulnerability.
Prince Isolder of Hapes, like Han, represents a form of sexism. Where Han represented possessional sexism, Isolder represents what is called ‘Benevolent Sexism’. In fact the Hapan culture is very much built around this symbolism. Isolder also is symbolic of what we call the ‘Smurfette Principle’, generally being the only male we see among the Hapans and his role in the story is mainly as a reference to the women. His name is a reference to the classic story of Tristan and Iseult (an Irish princess). This story also formed the basis of Lancelot and Guinevere in Arthurian Legend. Both of which are drawn on as intertextual inspirations, especially in dealing with the benevolent sexism that we call Chivalry. To kick off that symbolism of benevolent sexism, Isolder is introduced “From Hapes, the queen mother offers her greatest treasure, her son Isolder, the Chume’da, whose wife shall reign as queen.” Now, Isolder has taken some steps towards becoming more equal minded but he’s far from finished with his journey. We see this in him recognizing it’s still Leia’s choice to make, not his. In his backstory, Isolder has experienced a temporary loss of class privilege when he had to ability to live a new life as a smuggler. He has learned an amount of empathy needed for his deep character, but hasn’t progressed any further. This comes from the nature of benevolent sexism where, in setting a very high standard to be met regarding certain things, you don’t allow failure - the target of this sexism must live up to the stereotype set by others. At a glance, this high standard might be taken as a good thing, but as we’ll see, that is not the case. When Leia is kidnapped, he sets out to steal her back and take vengeance on Solo. His story quickly intertwines with Luke Skywalker’s, taking a sharp turn towards him learning about social justice and responsibility. This begins while on the Star’s Home with his mother, the Ta’a Chume (representing the Mary Sue), whom he ultimately disobeys to travel to Dathomir (the Inner World) sooner. Like all who enter the interdicted world of Dathomir, the two have a symbolic death and immediately after having reached the Inner World, Luke begins to teach Isolder concepts about social justice (what Luke represents) and responsibility (the Force). Much like Han’s denial, Isolder decides Luke is all talk, potentially “deluded, a harmless crank.” It doesn’t last. Isolder is bothered by the way Luke treats everything, from the Ta’a Chume to the Blue Desert People to R2 equally. He defiantly states “The universe doesn’t work this way!” but as the conversation with Luke continues, it’s made evident he’s already taken his first steps as Luke’s disciple. So now both Han and Isolder need to learn how to empathize with women and understand the discrimination they have caused them to face. Due to his backstory, Isolder has already started on the journey - that is why is he stated to already be Luke’s disciple despite not being able to control the Force. Once on Dathomir, him and Luke discover the Chu’unthor (being a Jedi ship, it represents the social responsibility and justice of the jedi) that is stuck in the tar pits (indicating the society is symbolically stuck). There he meets Teneniel (who represents a society’s institutions). From her, he begins to learn has she subjects him to a kind of benevolent sexism “to keep him safe”, freeing him in all but name. She also makes it clear she prefers Luke, making him something akin to a prize and not the desired one - the very thing he wanted to visit on Han. Yet, he still hasn’t learned. He believes he holds ultimate power because he gets to choose who he relinquishes his power to. He also points out his mother, the Mary Sue, is by her nature a “social carnivore.” On the way back, him and Teneniel share a moment of looking up at the stars where he tells her about them. It is here in scene 50, he finally understands the systematic component of sexism. “Isolder considered. Though it sounded barbaric on the surface, the witches’ way of mating was no more onerous than most other systems.” By the end of his journey, he has cast off his sexism and has gained autonomy over his actions (the central focus Feminism is about). He has fallen in love with the local Teneniel (foregoing the fantasy of Leia and the high-standards he imposes on females), confronted his mother (the Mary Sue), and brought Dathomir into Hapes (more on planet symbolism later).
Leia deals with a theme of social pressure. The first time we see her is in a hologram where she is dressed as an Alderaanian princess. Before getting to see her in person, we see her on something of a stage acting. She is engaging with the Hapans in a precession. Han even notes she didn’t always act as herself due to her playing the role expected of a diplomat. Very early on, Mom Mothma (the authority figure) states that the best thing for society is for Leia (and Han) to ignore their feelings to make this proposal happen. Throughout the scenes on Coruscant, New Republic society (and particularly the survivors of Alderaan), are trying to pressure her into a decision. While this is a story centered around Feminism, Leia is already a very solid feminist character and thus she is not actually the center hero of COURTSHIP. She has little to learn in a story about feminism and so she takes a different role in the story all together. As a character of agency and autonomy, representing the embodiment of feminism, she is also a role model, teacher, and guide for others throughout the story. Even though she’s mad at Han, she does help guide him to become a better person. She helps Isolder confront his beliefs that people can be better than others due to birthright. She guides the Witches into claiming autonomy of their own. In COURTSHIP, Leia’s role is closer to that of Ben Kenobi or Yoda in the Original Trilogy which is why it’s not a story centered on her. She still learns and grows, but as an already feminist character, she is the teacher and not the student. In fact, Dathomir is initially intimidating to Leia because of the apparent lack of a society. When they meet the witches, Leia is immediately welcomed into their society and we learn that she has been adopted into the Singing Mountain Clan under the name “Tandeer”. When she meets Luke and Isolder again, she tries to teach the witches to be more feminist. When they’re at the prison, she’s the only one to recognize one of the political prisoners and wants to immediate rescue them all despite the mission parameters. As this event makes clear, the pressure of guilt on her also comes from within herself. We see her guide the Falcon through a Force Storm. In the process, she is forced to leave Isolder behind. As Han observes, Leia liken it to having committed human sacrifice. When Luke is teaching others about the nature of the dark side, Leia provides the focus on the notion of guilt for the audience. At the end of the story, she has resolved this societal pressure and guilt regarding others in a rather simple, but no less important way: She will be true to herself.
Jedi knight Luke Skywalker represents justice and ethics within society. A powerful force (social responsibility) wielder, we often see him trying to improve society. We meet Luke exploring the home/tomb of a former Jedi lore guardian. The Whiphid guide he travels with leaves him to the dead in order to hunt a Snow-demon for honor and his clan. Inside, Luke shifts through the remains of what the Empire (the outside world) have inflicted on the Jedi in their tyranny. He gains a vision of Dathomir (the internal world) that explores the notion of the Force without the lens of the Jedi. His path first crosses with Leia when she calls for advice in solving problems of social ethics - with the Hapan’s offer and with the Verpine-Barabel situation. His path indirectly crosses Han by the way of the Sabacc game, and again when he follows in Han’s footsteps to find his wayward friend. There he stop the Hapans from visiting social injustice on Omagg. We see him treat the queen mother with respect - a respect we soon learn he treats everyone with. We also see him challenge Isolder’s notions of what is socially right and wrong, declaring the Prince his disciple on the grounds that Isolder is unaware he has started on a journey of exploring justice within a society. We learn Luke sees all life as equal, from the Ta’a Chume to his droid to the Blue Desert People. When he runs into Teneniel on the crashed Chu’unthor, she initially over power him with might. It doesn’t last long, but by not forcing a fight, he has gotten her to release their bonds on her own accord. He has taught her some small measure of responsibility towards others. He continues to instruct her - and other Dathomiri along with Isolder - about the ways of the Force. Every time we see him do so, there is a lesson in social responsibility alongside it. During a major battle against the nightsisters, we see Luke fumble. He in unable to save a young Nightsister before one of the rancors killed her and shortly there after, almost dies himself. In the process, he becomes much more aware of the Force, particularly around him in society and the wildlife. From here, he takes on powers akin to a whole (miniature) society himself through using the Force to control the subsystems on the Falcon. This is the point we see he has learned the societal responsibility of the Jedi and is using that power to bring about justice for the entire world. Nonetheless, he still relies on assistance from Han Solo as part of the importance of delegation to accomplish the feat. Afterwards, he receives the records he needs to help train new Jedi.
The droids, 3PO in particular, represent the influence of media. 3PO gives Han songs and poems, media, that reinforces Han’s belief that ‘the hero gets the girl’. This is taken to the extreme in the form of the notion that Han is the descendant of the King of Corellia, a rumor from the Central Computer. COURTSHIP is one of the few books where Han and 3PO actually get along and it is because of this relationship of media reinforcing Han’s notions. Han isn’t the only one affected, Leia internalizes some of it in the form of a certain song stuck in her head. By the later part of the novel, 3PO and R2 are the only connection to the outside world (the Empire) and share media from that source. However, we’ve learned the media is not always accurate and we can better see through the lies there of. In the same way, we can see straight through the lies of Gethzerion and Zsinj in the intercepted transmissions by this part of the novel.
Like Han and Isolder, Teneniel also represents a journey of morality and ethics (no surprise, Feminism is about equality). The witch specifically deals with a journey regarding the institution of society. She has a very strong desire for life (represented by the “Jai”) and a desire to learn more about other societies (from asking Isolder about the stars to having visions of being devoured by society) which translates into a powerful lust for Luke in the visible story on account of what he represents. She learns, over the course of her journey, that social justice (Luke) is not something that can be controlled. Like Leia, he simply won’t make that choice unwillingly. Luke and Isolder aren’t held as Teneniel’s captives for long - like Allya before her in parabolic symbolism, Teneniel discovers morality and ethics are born of survival (Remember what I said about empathy being the first and last frontier of all living beings?). The first challenge she faces with Luke is against the Nightsister (representing social irresponsibility and apathetic towards the plight of others) Ocheron and her enslaved Imperial (the outside world) host. Ocheron was noted as being highly deceptive and ultimately represents misinformation. Teneniel tries to make it past without the other noticing but it doesn’t work - Orcheron’s attack eliminating the function of her senses one at a time until Teneniel loses all incoming information about her world. She awakes to have been saved by Luke, but not before having a vision of being devoured within society as a child. Even though she comes from the Inner World, she still passes through a symbolic death before starting her journey of discovery regarding social awareness. While she is still “casually forceful” with Isolder in particular, she slowly grows to empathize with those her society has systematically oppressed (outsiders and males). In a clever way, with Isolder being Luke’s disciple, Teneniel trying to get a handle on him mirrors her attempts to get a handle on a new social responsibility for her. Just as Isolder sees the flaws in her society easily, she sees the flaws in Isolder’s - and mocks him for his willing blindness. In scene 42, we see Luke teaching Teneniel, Barukka, and Isolder about the darkside and Teneniel is the one who asks about others, friends, who have fallen to the dark side (apathetic or hostile to the oppression of others). Of important note, she witnesses Luke healing Barukka’s dark side taint with the light side of the Force (because symbolism is a force power). As navigating ethics and morality become more second nature to her, Teneniel begins to start using the Force subconsciously as well. It’s a slow process, but she takes the first steps to no longer need the framework of her society to understand the Force. At this point, she’s ready to begin examining other societies and asks Isolder about them - the disciple becomes like Luke, a symbol she can learn ethics from. Her empathy (love) is the lens she sees these through and it’s a hard lesson for her emotionally to wrap herself around. This time she doesn’t force it and listens to him teach her about other worlds. During the battle with the nightsisters, she murders a few of them takes a step closer to becoming one of them. It is Kirana Ti, a fellow witch who intersects with the jedi symbolism of social justice (which is why Kirana Ti goes on to become a Jedi Knight), that is the one who points this out to Teneniel and pulls her back. Teneniel then saves the life of both Isolder (the damsel in distress) and a nightsister, showing that she has learned her lessons of social ethics. With this accomplishment of symbolic transformation of societal institution, she is able to confront the Ta’a Chume to bring what she has learned to both Dathomir and Hapes as it’s next Queen Mother.
Ta’a Chume represents the Mary Sue in the story. She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, and her only equal is the already realized character (Leia) of the book. As the Ta’a Chume, she is the pinnacle of Hapan society - the perfect character that can do no wrong and accomplish anything. If the Jedi Luke Skywalker can take a single warship through a proscribed hyperspace route, then she can take a fleet through such a route. If Luke can telepathically get the location of Han, then she shows she knew where he was already. The Mary Sue represents the pinnacle of benevolent sexism in the form of unrealistic standards and ultimately is a shallow idealization of what a strong female character actually is. As Mon Mothma points out to Han, the New Republic’s democratic ways are dangerous to her. The social justice of Luke, and the social responsibility the jedi symbolize, are also despised by her because her power is not rooted in equality. The Mary Sue trope operates by lessening the value of those around her. As Isolder points out, she is a social carnivore. A Mary Sue cannot truly be threatened in a story, much like how threatening the Ta’a Chume is a death sentence. By the end of her journey, Teneniel is able to do so nonetheless (because she has embodied the Feminist notion of equality) and threatens to expose the Queen Mother. According to feminism, the Mary Sue trope is not a positive one and thus the character is one of the villains of the story.
Another villain is the nightsister, Gethzerion. She represents a concept called the Straw Feminist. Staw people are a form of logical fallacy that are there to be shot down (although, in theory, that does not need to be shot down by the Empire per se) by the people who made them. This trope is often presented as a crazy extremist, deceptive, using their powers for their own gain, and often wanting to take everything away from men….if not outright enslave or painfully kill them. She is often presented as someone who emasculates and dominates others, flying into fits of terrible rage for not getting her way, and showing no respect for boundaries. In the book, we see her flying into rages that produce terrible force storms due to not getting her hands on Solo’s ship, the Falcon. We see her lie constantly. She’s power hungry, enough so that she is the reason the Empire has interdicted the planet. Palpatine himself was afraid of her because of how alike they were, imprisoning her on Dathomir along with her nightsisters. As the leader of the nightsisters, we see her subordinates regularly emasculate male heroes like Isolder. We see Gethzerion herself painfully begin to break every bone in Han’s body. She’s stopped when the Empire, the outside world that has given her most of her power, shoots her down.
Mon Mothma looked up into Han’s eyes, as if gauging him. “With the wealth of Hapes to help fund the war, Leia could overthrow the last remnants of the Empire quickly, saving billions of lives in the process. I know how you have felt about her in the past, General Solo. Still, I think I speak for everyone in the New Republic when I say that, for all our sakes, I hope she accepts the offer.”
But what if the stage all this is happening on is already built? This is common in shared universes. You will reuse stages and props just like you will use characters other authors have already established. It is treated in much the same way. Tatooine in A NEW HOPE is the same Tatooine in RETURN OF THE JEDI, as far as the surface story is concerned, but they mean very different things in their perspective stories. Because of that, the focus and function of the stage shifts. In A NEW HOPE, Tatooine represents the barren future. Luke has no opportunities to leave home, Ben is retired, Han can’t escape his debt, R2 and 3PO can’t fulfill their mission. Most of what we see are barren seas of sand, jagged rocks, and seedy bars. In RETURN OF THE JEDI, Tatooine symbolizes the fearful past. Lando has to face his smuggler roots before helping lead the Rebellion, Han has to face his blindness to the greater struggle (a parallel of the Rebellion against the Empire), Leia has to face her fear of helplessness in the [ugly] face of tyranny, Luke has to contend with him becoming more like Vader (the sand skiff’s plank isn’t just there, it’s a repeated symbol of the final scenes in EMPIRE). This time we see a corrupted palace, a gaping maw, pirate ships, and a monster’s lair. The focus and function of the stage changed, but the surface illusion of them being the same stage remains.
In COURTSHIP, Coruscant is one such stage. This was before the release of PHANTOM MENACE so representation of Coruscant was more sparse at the time. Coruscant was introduced a few years earlier in the HEIR OF THE EMPIRE book as the galactic capital and a representation of high society. In COURTSHIP, Coruscant represents society once again but we see a different side of that society. This is Leia’s stage and Leia (Societal pressure) spends her time on this stage working to keep society moving forward, both the New Republic society and the Alderaanian refugees. We see elaborate halls and receptions areas large enough for massive cultural delegations. We see places of refuge that hold the history of Leia’s homeworld of Alderaan. But that isn’t all of Coruscant we see. In orbit is the Star Destroyer, Rebel Dream. Leia’s personal ship that Han and Isolder spend much time on….when they’re in her good graces at least. Here we see the state and dining room that Prince Isolder is most familiar with contrasted with the messy section of hanger where the Falcon is stored. The other part of Coruscant we see is the dark underbelly of this society. Lights are dim to non-existent, gambling, and this is the only place we see violence break out. The character who spends the most time here is Han (a product of this part of society), but Ta’a Chume (who looks down on everyone on the stage) and Luke Skywalker (who brings justice to this stage) follow his trail.
The world you build for your story can take on meaning of it’s own. The stage can becoming a manifestation of characters and concepts.
The most important of these is Dathomir as an Internal World. It is on Dathomir that demons of the inner mind roam and hidden truths about oneself come to light. The local creatures and inhabitants are examples of this. The world is separated from the outside world, represented in the visual story by the fact it is an interdicted planet. We first learn of Dathomir through a force-vision experienced by Luke - a vision he only experiences in his mind unlike the cave on Dagobah. The first steps towards going to Dathomir come from Han in his moment of desperation in the underworld of Coruscant. The threshold to get to the planet for Han, Leia, Isolder, and Luke is nothing short of a symbolic death at the hands of the Outside world.
The Daughters of Allya themselves are another such manifestation of the stage. The witches represent the institutions of society. The sexism in some of these institutions and traditions are highlighted but they’re not the only examples. The witches are portrayed as having a community based society that shares resources. This sense of community extends beyond the human population to include the rancors as well. As symbols of the institutions of society, they have them in spades and their traditions are numerous. “Never cede to evil” is more than a personal law, but one we see takes the whole society to enforce.
The stage can also represent concepts. The Force representing identity or social responsibility for example. When combined with a Sabacc game, we have a new variant of the game which shifts the story focus on these symbolic elements. A side is only as strong as the society makes it. Even though you want to win, the rules make it beneficial to assist your peers in a match. It is this construct that turns a simple Sabacc game into a stage for drama.
The arms employed by the Dathomiri and the Hapans also falls into this category. The Dathomiri only have blades and old blasters - by all accounts they are not a threat in the traditional sense. They are an underprivileged society. What they have in abundance however is the Force and the companionship with the rancors. The symbolism these elements represents is also the strength of the Witches. Their strength rests in their community and their willingness to be responsible to one another. Those who lack this become Nightsisters. The Hapan arms, while much more technological, are just as symbolic. The weapons of the Battle Dragon have been covered, but we also see Isolder using a blazing personal shield and we see the Gun of Command in action. As a society, Hapes represents benevolent sexism. The shield fills the role of what amounts to protection that can harm both foe and wielder. Like benevolent sexism, it can actually protect the person in question….to a degree. The Gun of Command represents the other part of Hapan society - ideological oppression. There is an innate belief in Hapan culture that some people are better than others - we see this in the argument over birthright, we see this in their notions about men and women, and Isolder describes a capitalistic class-based system of society where industrialists are valued more than farmers. As such, it should come as no surprise they have devised a mean to control someone’s ideology - at least for a time. Luke isn’t immune to the Gun of Command to make him ‘badass’ in the story, it’s due to the symbolism at play. They want to control his ideology but his sense of social responsibility and justice (the Force and jedi training) prevented it. This is a manifestation of him actively protecting Omogg, who the Hapans were trying to interrogate at the time. It’s also why Leia, who is force sensitive like her twin brother, wasn’t immune to Han using it on her. There was no such similar context of symbolism.
Finally, let's talk about the Barabel and Verpine subplot. In the surface story, it occupies a good portion of Leia’s focus in the first act before being handed off to Mon Mothma. If you’ve read criticisms of the books, many people don’t know why this is here. Fortunately for us, we have the anagogical structure identified. No social theory is followed by a singular mass of like-minded people, only people with similar goals. Every now and then, someone takes something “too far”. If that person (who generally are also the ones hurt the most) isn’t reigned in by the group they are apart of, outsiders are likely to start treating the whole group as hostile. The Barabel and the Verpine are both allies of the New Republic and are dealt with while Leia is on Coruscant (general society). Leia initially wonders what would drive one of the “mad queens” of the Verpine to break a contract with the Barabel. Later the subplot is handed over the Mon Mothma (the authority figure) and the direction she takes is to police the Barabels’ actions. This subplot is an exploration into the actions of one does not excuse the actions of others taken against the group. This is why Leia has her revelation Mon Mothma was taking the correct approach in reigning in the Barabels rather than focusing on the Verpine. The function and focus of everything in the story, great and small, is driven by the anagogical structure.
♫ He’s got his own planet, ♪
♪ Although it’s kind of wild. ♪
♪ Wookies love him. ♪
♪ Women love him. ♪
♪ He’s got a winning smile! ♪
♪ Though he may seem cool and cocky, ♪
♪ He’s more sensitive than he seems, ♪
♪ Han Solo, ♪
♪ What a man! Solo. ♪
♪ He’s every princess’s dream! ♫
Still, not all elements actually stay confined to a single story. This is usually true in a series of stories but elements can jump authors and books. It’s not always an intentional jump either. Even though important elements of a story are invisible, we still consume them. Our subconscious is a powerful thing that recognizes more than we’re aware of. If you think back to older stories you consumed a long time ago, you’ll often find that what you remember about certain elements in the story tie directly to its relational and abstract layers. Elements of COURTSHIP have influenced the rest of the Star Wars EU, it is one of the foundations of the setting itself. Each story needs it’s own anagogical structure, but there can be overlap in what symbols are utilized in service of that structure. When this happens, the previous story structure often becomes a part of the stage for the next. In particular, we’re going to take a look at how some of the story elements forged in COURTSHIP’s invisible layers were continued in other stories within the Star Wars EU. In the interest of avoiding further EU spoilers, this will be kept brief.
Kirana Ti appears in the novel COURTSHIP. Of significant note for the character, she is aware of Teneniel’s step towards the dark side and keeps her accountable. On the surface level, it’s not the biggest moment. On the symbolic level, as discussed previously, it’s an interaction with the running theme of the Jedi. Of every Dathomiri Witch in this novel, Kirana Ti is the only one who goes on to become a Jedi Knight. Her next appearance was 2 months later with the publication of DARK APPRENTICE in the JEDI ACADEMY trilogy.
Then there is Tenel Ka Djo, the Dathomiri Witch who first shows up in the YOUNG JEDI KNIGHT series. As the daughter of Teneniel and Isolder, she embodies both of the symbolism they had by the end of COURTSHIP. Coming from both Dathomir and Hapes, she often represents the experiences we see in intersectional feminism - that is where multiple forms of discrimination interact (such as tackling ableism and the fear of hiding who you are).
The last one I’m going to briefly touch on is the society of the witches - or rather a couple of newly introduced clans in the FATE OF THE JEDI series. Continuing on the symbolism of feminism, we see some of the progress of change COURTSHIP laid the foundation for between a clan of males and a clan of witches. Equality, the end goal of feminism, comes from the situation. Of note are some of the symbols that carry over, such as the use of the Star Destroyer tactic mirroring the representation of Leia’s gifts and the clans in question set up to build a new Jedi Academy once they have achieved this measure of social justice.
I’ve talked heavily about the anagogical structure because of it’s importance in world building but it is not the only invisible story going on - just the over arching unifier. Another form of invisible story are patterns - foreshadowing and intermittent symbolism within the story.
Looking back through the story, it seems almost inevitable that Dathomir would join Hapes. This is because the subtle foreshadowing has become obvious in hindsight. It begins with the Hapan backstory in scene 6. As Leia tells it “And when they found a beautiful woman, some raiders would take her as a prize to the hidden world of Hapes. In short, Han, the raider were your kind of people.” By scene 18, the pirate, Han, has fulfilled this prophecy by kidnapped Leia and is taking her to the hidden world of Dathomir. It’s no accident the very next scene is Isolder talking to his mother about the future of Hapes, swearing to follow Han [to Dathomir] to bring back his bride. While on the spaceship, the Star’s Home, the Ta’a Chume tells a lie to Luke about a jedi academy within Hapan space. The next time Luke is on a similar vessel (and Isolder made a point of telling Leia that “vessel” was a better translation than starship), it’s the Chu’unthor - a Jedi Academy that crashed on Dathomir. There is even a parallel between Ta’a Chume and Gethzerion in how they regard Luke and deal deceptively with outsiders. Foreshadowing is probably the invisible elements of a story most people are familiar with.
Intermittent symbolism can be found in the gifts from the worlds of Hapes to Leia at the beginning of the story. These are not random or “merely cool” ideas, but are informed by the anagogical structure much like everything else has been. So to set the scene, the Hapan Queen Mother is treating Leia as an equal and knows what Leia wants. First, the rainbow gems from Gallinore are silicon-based lifeforms that matured over a thousand years. One gem could buy a Calamari cruiser. It is, representationally, wealth and long-term investment. Banking more or less. Second is the tree of wisdom that bears fruit from Selab. The fruit greatly boosted intellect of those who had passed into old age. In short, it allows aging with dignity. Third is the Gun of Command from Charubah, delivered by a male cyborg. The ability to control and determine the voluntary thoughts of others. Technology at it’s finest. Fourth we have poorer worlds offering captured Star Destroyers. Might and protection. Fifth, from Arabanth, a thought puzzle. It was a few words on the importance of embracing life while accepting death. While there is an argument here about how every character that travels to Dathomir (the Inner world) goes through a symbolic death, for this article’s sake we’ll keep it simple and chalk this one up to philosophy. Sixth is a beautiful song from Ut. Creativity and art. And the Seventh gift that is detailed is of course, Isolder and the power he brings. So what do we have here? Wealth, dignity when aging, technology, protection, philosophy, creativity, and finally power. From the wage gap to women being valued less as they get older, each and every one of these tends to be male dominated or is something women in our society have to fight for. One of the reasons I point this out is because these symbols, while holding for decades, are actually temporary. If read by someone from an audience were women traditionally dominate the fields of philosophy and creativity, for example, the symbolism falters. This is ok though, it’s far from the end of the story. In Fact, the important gifts, like Isolder, the Gun of Command, and arguable the Star Destroyers, have other symbolism to prop themselves up. The Gun of Command, representing systematic control over others, comes from world of systems and being delivered by a person who is half an artificial system himself. Those Star Destroyers come into play as a trans-story element, playing roles in other stories. As a symbol of community power against oppression, is it any wonder why Luke and Ben (Jedi who have never actually commanded a Star Destroyer) in the FATE OF THE JEDI series use a star destroyer deployment to help a poor community of Dathomiri fight off oppressive nightsisters? The point ultimately is to be aware of what symbols might be temporary depending on your audience and find ways to reinforce the invisible story’s connection to those visible elements that are important.
That’s it for this article. Join me next time as we explore story and scene structure within the THRAWN trilogy. Once again, we will actually be touching on the anagogical structure of the story but we will be doing so in a new light as it to determines elements like scene progression and defining segmented narratives within a whole. We are also going to get into plotting, scenes, character arcs, pacing, and more.
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Other Articles in this series
-Lets see some ID, exploring character in I, JEDI -Behind Mist and Magic, Worldbuilding in THE COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA
-So beautifully plotted, narrative structure in the THRAWN trilogy (Coming Soon)