It’s deep in the human psyche that betrayal is the worst thing anyone can ever do to anyone. The crux of Julius Caesar is not whether the Caesar was a good or bad ruler who should or should not be removed from power — it’s a tragedy that hangs on betrayal, on E tu, Brute?
When Dante described the lowest circle of hell in his Inferno, he described a place reserved for betrayers — the worst sin that deserves the worst punishment. He also assigns the worst fate (being gnawed on by Satan himself in the center of the pit) to the two most famous betrayers in history — Brutus, betrayer of Caesar, and Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Christ. The creature who betrayed Christ fills us with such revulsion that we no longer use the name “Judas.” When Ben-Hur was being adapted into a film, the producers wanted to change the main character’s name from “Judah” because they thought it was too similar. All of this resonating from the deep human repugnance at the notion of betrayal.
This is a very literary opening, isn’t it? Well, Star Wars is literary and so am I. This is all leading somewhere.
In Luke’s Gospel, 7:47, Jesus makes the profound statement that one who loves much is forgiven much — and one who is forgiven little, loves only little. If betrayal is the worst thing one human can do to another, then it follows that a repentant betrayer is forgiven more and surely loves more than any other person. In light of this, let’s turn to the two most famous betrayers in the Star Wars Saga.
Although they were born 3,000 years apart on opposite sides of the galaxy, these two have remarkably similar stories in the great saga. Malavai Quinn, whose name literally means leader going bad, was born on Dromond Kaas 3,680 years before the Battle of Yavin. One of thousands of frustrated military men, he enters the saga as a companion of the Emperor’s Wrath during the cold war between Old Republic and Empire. A cunning military mastermind, he was exiled to a post on Balmorra after embarrassing a Moff; he only escaped execution due to the good graces of a Dark Council member named Darth Baras. Baras, an exacting master, was content to let Quinn rot on Balmorra until such time as he needed his services. The Wrath was merely an apprentice when Quinn joined his crew; when this Sith received the Emperor’s commission and became Wrath, he aligned himself against Darth Baras and put Quinn in an unenviable position of serving two masters, each wanting the other dead. Not knowing which master was truly serving the Emperor, or which truly desired the best for the Empire — Quinn’s driving passion — he obeyed Baras’ orders and attempted to destroy the Wrath in a crushing betrayal. Defeated by the Wrath, he begged forgiveness and begged to continue serving him for the Empire’s sake.
Lando Calrissian was born on Soccoro 31 years before the Battle of Yavin. Always a restless spirit, he left home as a teenager and acquired a reputation as a professional gambler. He participated in military actions such as the Battle of Tanaab but was always more of a businessman. Constantly sniffing out opportunities for profit, he more than once found himself uncomfortable when the situations went bust. One of his most successful ventures was when he took over as Baron Administrator of Cloud City, a tibanna gas mine that flourished under his control. Many of its citizens came from dubious backgrounds and criminal pasts; they viewed the mine as a way to start over, to go legit. When the Empire arrived on the hunt for Han Solo, it was a disaster in more ways than one. Lando and Han had been friends for years, but due to a falling out, hadn’t spoken for a long time. With the Empire threatening the colony of people who depended on him, Lando tried his best to make the situation work. Betrayed in turn by Vader, Lando was forced to call the city to evacuate and dedicate his energies to rescuing Han from the trap he had helped create.
Both of these men are forced between two profound loyalties when it comes to “the betrayal.” Neither of them choose to betray their friends for something trivial such as greed or lust. Both men are willing to sacrifice for and desperate to choose the best for their respective communities; however, it’s even two-pronged on Quinn’s part, for Darth Baras has treated him well for ten years, protecting him from Broysc’s pettiness, even confiding in him. By contrast, however much Quinn respects and admires the Sith Warrior who becomes the Wrath, this person is a recent acquaintance whose behavior may be quite erratic as far as the good of the Empire is concerned. Sith are notoriously self-serving, and Quinn believes he has ten years of Baras’ behavior to count on.
Both men defend the decision in the heat of it. Lando’s “I’ve done all I can! I’m sorry I couldn’t do better, but I’ve got my own problems” and Quinn’s “I didn’t want to choose between you, but Darth Baras has forced my hand” are nearly interchangeable. No doubt it’s on this very brief moment their detractors most focus — but look at how much, how weighty the evidence is on either side of this flash.
Both men instantly regret the decision. One could say they merely dissolve when it goes sideways on them, but look at their history and you can see that’s not in their character. They both express their remorse right away. Quinn programs battle droids to kill the Sith and Lando stands by while Han is tortured, but as Quinn realizes the Wrath is more powerful than he thought and as Lando realizes Vader intends to destroy Han, Leia, and Chewbacca, they freely acknowledge they’ve gotten in over their heads. Both take steps to rectify the error as quickly as possible. Quinn later explains to Darth Vowrawn that he is trying to make up for a past indiscretion.
Neither man is questioned on his loyalty again. Quinn is integrated fully into the storyline after the anticlimactic betrayal scene. And while Han’s last words to Lando before carbonite are a stony, “What’s goin’ on, buddy?”, the first thing he does free of carbonite is attempt to save Lando from the sarlacc. There’s no hesitation. Not only does Lando reflexively call out for Han to help him, Han leaps into action despite being blinded and weakened. And when Han takes a blaster to shoot the tentacle holding Lando prisoner, neither man even considers the possibility that Han would take revenge–Lando’s only concern is Han’s ability to aim with hibernation sickness affecting his vision.
Now, I understand that The Old Republic is a game, and the Emperor’s Wrath is a character that is played differently by everyone who plays it. While I’ve freely noted Han’s interactions with Lando, I’ve refrained from speculating on the Wrath’s. Maybe you play a really dark side Sith who would like to kill anyone who ever looked at him sideways. I don’t have anything to do with that. I only present the canon version of these events: namely, that Quinn is accepted into the Wrath’s crew once more and remains a player in galactic events, just as Lando is welcomed into the rebellion and becomes an integral part of the Star Wars. How you feel is your business; I am under no circumstances telling you how to feel. So far, I haven’t even mentioned how I feel. I’ve just given the bare facts of the story.
Now, this is how I see it: if you want to be like the kids who threw things at Billy Dee Williams’ car when he picked his kids up from school, if you want to be like the kids on Twitter who moan about how much they want to kill Quinn, it’s your prerogative. It’s my prerogative to love both of these characters. I love the friendship between Malavai Quinn and my Wrath, a Chiss named Chan’drakan’tah. I love the friendship between Han and Lando. I can only hope my real life friendships are as strong and as stable — I hope if I feel forced between loyalties and choose the wrong one, that forgiveness and not condemnation will meet me. I promise my friends that if they make the same bad choice, I will forgive.
Because he who is forgiven much loves much. And, also, I love both these characters. Much.