Thursday, 25 May 2017

An Elegant Weapon, for a More Civilized Age

Lightsabers have always been a contentious issue for me. Like any child of the seventies and eighties, I think, I was obsessed with Luke Skywalker and his lightsaber. Eventually, I sort of “grew out of it”, which sounds condescending (considering the massive popularity of lightsabers and Jedi), although it certainly isn’t meant to be. Remember, this is my opinion, no more valid than anyone else’s.

                My interests moved to the older, more cynical Han Solo, cracking wise and shooting first. During my adulthood, I have always preferred the anti-hero. When I started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, my favourite characters have always been the tech users. Eventually, of course, I also played the force classes, and with more enthusiasm when I realised that they could use vibroswords. I thoroughly enjoyed the Sith Warrior and Inquisitor storylines. I may do a post about the class stories at a later date.

But, when watching the movies, although the Jedi types seemed hopelessly naive, those lightsaber battles have always enthralled me. I have always been a fan of swords and swordplay. The Three Musketeers are a great example of this and, I still contend, have a very similar feel to Star Wars, especially the 1993 version, which even has that moment at the end of D’Artangian’s duel with Rochefort where D'Artangian's sword seems to fly into his hand, just as if he had used the force to achieve this.

Lately, more and more, Darth Simmer, my Marauder, has been taking up my play time. The references to Ataru Form, in addition to various other references to form in the skill trees to Forms, got me thinking about whether these were just mechanics of the game or something else.

Some research quickly introduced me to the concept of the Seven Forms of Lightsaber combat. I can only assume this has been codified through the later Expanded Universe material, as I had never found reference to this material before and I have read most of the earlier Expanded Universe novels, read many comics and spent countless hours playing the pen and paper Star Wars roleplaying games (all the versions) and PC games (including the Knights of the Old Republic series).

My research into the forms reminded me of Obi-Wan’s description of lightsabers, quoted in this post’s subject. Because, what’s interesting about the forms is the fact that they aren’t just fighting styles, but philosophies. Which, I suppose, could be applied to many real-world fighting styles. And they tell a story.

For those who don’t know, the seven forms are:

I Shii-Cho (also known as the “Way of the Sarlacc”): This is the most basic of styles, taught to padawans and younglings, as well as Sith supplicants. It is a very sweeping style, great for crowd control and balanced for offense and defense. It grew out of combat styles used in the era before lightsabers and was obviously designed to deal with the threats that Jedi of the time were likely to face. This is the style used by Luke in his early Jedi years, and the form used by Rage Marauders and Juggernauts (Focus Guardian/Concentration Sentinel) in SW:TOR. Considering that a large part of the Rage / Focus / Concentration spec is based around force powers, it makes sense that they fight with the basic form. This in no way implies that this spec is less “advanced” than others; perhaps less specialised is a better way to put it.

II Makashi (aka “Way of the Ysalamiri”): A precise and focused duelling form, this is not directly implemented in SW:TOR, much to the chagrin of many on the game’s official forums. As the Jedi order (and the wider galaxy) evolved, Jedi fell, and armed conflict between Jedi and Sith became more common. The Shii-Cho style, too broad and prone to disarmament by a more skilled opponent was found lacking for duels between two saberists. From this necessity grew the Makashi form, similar to real-world fencing and seen on-screen with the character of Count Dooku. I enjoy the fact that this style is named after the Ysalamiri, a creature evolved to counter a predator with force sensitivity (the vornskr), much like the lightsaber form itself. This fell out of favour with time, especially after Darth Bane and his rule of two made duels between force users significantly less common.

III Soresu (aka “The Way of the Mynock”): A purely defensive style, which we know from SW:TOR as the tanking form used by Immortal Juggernauts and Defence Guardians. With the development of blaster technology and the need for force users to defend themselves, Soresu form was developed. Obi-Wan has been noted as a master of this form, but we have seen it employed by all force users at different times throughout the movies and games, especially its signature move of deflecting blaster bolts.

IV Ataru (aka “the Way of the Hawk-Bat”): An aggressive and acrobatic style most prominently seen used by Yoda in the prequel trilogies, as well as by my aforementioned Carnage Marauder (and Combat Sentinels, of course) in SW:TOR. Extremely aggressive and effective, but also requiring great physical prowess and acrobatic ability.

V Shien or its variant Djem So (aka “The Way of the Krayt Dragon”): Shien is a more defensive duelling style with strong counters utilising the user’s natural strength to dominate an opponent. Shien form developed out of the weaknesses of older forms (Makashi was great for duelling one-on-one, but weaker against multiple opponents; Soresu form is almost completely defensive). While Soresu allows deflection of blaster bolts, Shien (and its variant Djem So) allowed the user to redirect a blaster bolt to a specific target. Shien form was favoured by Anakin Skywalker as well as Vengeance Juggernauts and Vigilance Guardians. The development of Shien also reflects the evolving paradigm of lightsaber combat and the Jedi order, emphasising the need for a strong defense which still allows for powerful offensive moves when needed.

VI Niman (aka “The Way of the Rancor”): Niman, known as the Consular’s style evolved from a synthesis of forms I-V, and is a “jack of all trades, master of none” style which is designed to be easy to master and combines the use of force powers with the grab-bag of saber attacks. This evolved from the Jedi Consular’s de-emphasis on saber mastery in favour of adaptability and use of violence as a last resort.

VII Juyo (aka “The Way of the Vornskr”): This is considered one of the deadliest and most dangerous of the forms, both to opponents and to the user themselves. Juyo form involves the channeling of negative emotion into vicious, chaotic and unpredictable attacks and, lore-wise at least, is considered a Sith form, and its use was frowned upon and outright forbidden by the Jedi. A variant, Vaapad, was developed by Mace Windu who also, for the convenience of the audience, uses a purple lightsaber (purple being a blend of red and blue, the traditional saber crystal colours of dark and light side, respectively). Vaapad was designed to channel the negative emotions of force users back at them, in much the same way as the Shien variant, Djem So. Even this was considered dangerous by the Jedi, as a conduit to the Dark Side, making it extremely odd that Juyo is the form used by both the Annihilation Marauder and the Watchman Sentinel in SW:TOR. Damn you, game mechanics balance! Also, notably, this is the "Way of the Vornskr", named after that force-sensitive predator which the Ysalamiri evolved to defend itself from (and it can certainly be argued that Vuyo fits well with the mindset of a force-sensitive predator!).

In closing, I just have a few honourable mentions. While not technically forms, these (among numerous other techniques) also exist within the frankly far-more-detailed-than-I-expected subject of lightsaber combat.

  1. Trakata was the art of tactically deactivating and reactivating one’s lightsaber for combat advantage. This can be seen in action in the “Return” trailer for SW:TOR where Kao Cen Darach (Satele Shan’s master) turns off the second blade of Satele’s saberstaff while duelling Vindican (Malgus’ master), then reactivates it after it is behind Vindican’s guard and uses that end to strike a disabling blow. Trakata would also allow a user to deactivate their saber when locked with an opponent, to throw them off balance, as well as to bypass a block/parry by quickly deactivating and reactivating the blade and going right through the space where the defender’s blade is. Needless to say, this technique would require an almost inhuman level of timing and would probably be considered to be unsporting by some, although in a battle to the death, these considerations are often forgotten!
  2. Dun moch, which involved taunts and jests, was used by unscrupulous force users to distract and manipulate their opponent and, it could be argued, is honored in SW:TOR via the taunt abilities of force using tanks.

Thanks for sticking with this rather long post. I wasn’t expecting it to go on this long. I welcome your thoughts and comments in the comments section.

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