There’s this thing called the Callista Trilogy in the Expanded Universe, and it’s really only called that because there’s this character called Callista in all three books that aren’t even written by the same person. (Barbara Hambly wrote the first and third, Kevin J. Anderson wrote the second.) The first book is called Children of the Jedi, and it is remarkable in that, for the first time in all of Star Wars history, Luke Skywalker managed to get a girlfriend.
I’m not kidding. This book may lead to Luke getting laid for the very first time. He’s about 30, by the way.
Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with Luke waiting for the right person! It’s just that his record with ladies is sort of… I’m trying to think of a better word than disturbing. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to Luke’s terrible compatibility sense, or something more sinister. First there’s Camie, his buddy Fixer’s girlfriend, seemingly the only woman on Tatooine besides Aunt Beru. (The implication in the novelization of Star Wars is that basically everyone has a crush on that girl.) He gets a little fixated on his sister next, but again, pretty much the only woman around. Then there’s Gaeriel Captison, who didn’t work out because her religion was all ‘The Jedi Throw the Universe Outta Gear,’ or what have you. There was Mara Jade, who had some chemistry with Luke, but let’s be fair—neither one of them was ready for the other when they met. So an editor at Bantam reportedly told Barbara Hambly to write “The great love of Luke’s life.”
And she wrote him a dead woman trapped in a computer.
Callista Masana is actually a pretty awesome character on paper; she’s a Jedi from the Old Republic days who was part of a splinter sect. The sect was run by Jedi Master Altis, who maintained a community of relief workers, both Force-sensitive and not. Basically, she was part of a group that did what Jedi should ostensibly be doing all the time. She went into hiding when Order 66 came down, but when Palpatine found out about a hidden group of saved younglings—aptly called Children of the Jedi—on a planet called Belsavis, he sent a nasty dreadnought to explode them. (He got a bit vainglorious with this one and named it the Eye of Palpatine, which is about one-eighth more snazzy than DEATH STAR, I suppose.) Callista gave her life to stop that dreadnought by destroying the ship’s systems. Her spirit got dumped into the gunnery computer, but her body was gone.
But why is this all important, you ask? Well, here’s a funny thing having to do with Emperor Palpatine’s concubines… (Those are three words you hoped never to read in succession. I’m sorry.)
Roganda Ismaren is the other hand in this quite complicated plot; she was a Force-sensitive young woman who lost her family to the Empire. In order to survive, she worked her way into the Imperial Court and eventually became one of Palpatine’s favorites. Then she fell in love and had a kid by another guy (who died), so she made herself useful as an Emperor’s Hand to make sure she wouldn’t end up dead. Her plan was to get other Imperials to think that her boy was Palpatine’s son, but once the Emperor died, succession wasn’t so important anymore. She had her kid Irek trained by a cool scientist who figured out a way to implant a chip in a Jedi’s brain so that they could use the Force to manipulate technology. Get in those computer banks and mix it up! So Roganda has Irek wake up the Eye of Palpatine and call it to Belsavis where she’s holding a meeting to get former Imperial big wigs to invest in the My-Son-is-the-New-Emperor Plan. She’s hoping the fancy dreadnought will convince the naysayers. Leia and Han grab Artoo and casually saunter in, trying to get to the bottom of the whole thing. Hijinks ensue, though Roganda and Irek certainly don’t end up with the prize they had in mind.
And that would be where Luke comes in. He hops onto the Eye of Palpatine to stop it from doing its thing with two students from the Jedi Praxeum; Cray Mingla and Nichos Marr. Or, to be more specific, a robot version of Nichos Marr. Yeah... background on that: Nichos and Cray were going to get married, but he got a fatal disease. Cray is a scientist, and worked day and night to save her man, but the best she could do was transfer him into a robot body using illegal Ssi-ruuk technology.
If you find yourself saying ‘gee, it seems odd that Luke is going on this adventure with two students who we’ve never met before, one whom is also sort of trapped in a computer just like his prospective new girlfriend,’ you’d be a perceptive type of person, and I like you very much.
What’s stranger is the critters on board the dreadnought; the Eye of Palpatine was basically designed to catch, quarantine, and brainwash anyone who tried to board it, so among its crew are Gamorreans, and Jawas, and all sorts of other unlikely company. They amble between being slightly helpful and a great big threat, depending on what’s needed. Cray and Nichos get separated from Luke right quick, and because the ship is not exactly intended for guests, Luke finds himself having to use the majority of his Force abilities to keep himself alive. Meaning that he’s using to the Force to maximize his use of the limited oxygen and whatnot. This is a really cool idea, and something I wish was played with more often—forcing Jedi to rely on their skills to keep them afloat in inhospitable environments means we get to see what they’re made of as resourceful people. It’s a smart way of handling the old folks-with-superpowers dilemma.
Anyhow, during that period he bonds with Callista-in-the-computer, sharing memories and learning about being a Jedi from a decidedly more useful source than his norm. These bits are a very interesting insight into Luke’s character, who can be so underestimated in some of the EU novels and the fandom at large. No, he’s not Mr. Snappy One-Liner like Han, and he’s not a political powerhouse like his sister, but Luke Skywalker is—as I constantly repeat at parties to the detriment of my friendships—an interesting person. It’s easy to forget that the Good Guy actually has a personality, something Hambly discussed her desire to explore in interviews about the book. For that alone I have an incorrigible soft spot for this tale.
But then there’s the part where Cray is about to get murdered by the weird brainwashed crew, and sort of gives up on life once she realizes that her robot boyfriend didn’t really get his soul downloaded into the hardware. Her assumption was that she had made a full transfer when she saved Marr’s life from the disease, that this mass of wire and metal was really Nichos at the core. But when he can’t save her due to being fit with a restraining bolt, she is forced to realize that this is simply a robot with her fiancé’s memories and no more.
Whoa, first of all—the fact that you can even put a restraining bolt on someone who you consider to be a person is whack. Laws of Robotics are one thing, but this means that you can recall the guy with a remote and all sorts of creepiness, and just, no. More to the point, Cray’s revelation that Nichos-the-droid has no soul doesn’t seem like a fair assessment; people are their memories. That is what forms us individuals. So if she’s right, and somehow Nichos’ “soul” didn’t transfer, she’s going to need to give me a little more by way of scientific reasoning on that one. (But then, there are so many scary things to consider about how the Star Wars universe handles droids, it’s really no surprise that this is where we end up.)
Still, it doesn’t end there. When Luke finally does rescue Cray, she tells him that she doesn’t want to live without Nichos. She’s going to destroy the Eye of Palpatine and he’ll have time to get out, but she’s doing a swan song. Which is super convenient because if Callista is going to survive, she could use a fresh new body, and Cray is totally willing to hand it over.
Look, if I’d had several books worth of The Epic Epical Love Story of Cr’Nichos (Star Wars ship names should have apostrophes I’ve decided), maybe I’d be less wary of this decision. As is, it simply reads ‘Girl Has Big Love Feelings So It’s Okay For Her to Die Over Dead Boyfriend.’ She’s a plot device. The fact that she happens to be a super-cool scientist does not negate this. She exists to give Luke’s undead girlfriend a new meat suit.
Speaking of which—Luke, I understand that you really want a lady friend, but being okay with using a former student’s body to that end... there is really no way for that to come off as anything but wrong with a capital W the size of the North American continent. It’s kind of gross. You will all be interested to know that the longer Callista inhabits Cray’s body, the more that body starts to morph to look like the Callista of yesteryear.
Uh-huh. Well, isn’t that wizard?
But these things always come with a price, of course, and that price is surprisingly not two dead students. (As I said, we barely knew the kids.) It’s that once Callista has fused herself to the shiny new body, she finds that she can no longer use the Force.
What happens to Callista and what happened to the Star Wars fandom following is a fate I will tackle with the next two books. That’s right, lovelies—Darksaber is coming up.
Emily Asher-Perrin would like to point out that she saw exactly no problems with having a girlfriend trapped in a computer as an eleven-year-old. So. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.