Previously we discussed the Fel family as a unit and their appeal to Star Wars fans. While Soontir Fel, the hotshot Imperial and later Rogue Squadron pilot, was the character who founded and made headway for the popularity of the whole clan, there are 6 – or 7, depending on whom you ask – family members with interesting backgrounds of their own. Some of them are well defined while others have remained rather mysterious. Kay, Mary, and Tricia continue the Fel family discussion with a closer look at some of those individual members.
Syal Antilles Fel’s early story is one that many dream about: the life of a holo (movie) star. She later disappears to the Unknown Regions with the love of her life, Soontir. It is there that Syal raises her family and endures the loss of several children. Throughout her brief mentions in the X-Wing comic books, she appears determined and confident, yet in Force Heretic II: Refugee she acts quite differently. When you think of Syal, what type of woman do you picture?
Mary: Strong. Stalwart. The Fels’ rock. Syal feels deeply, loves passionately, and would protect any Fel with her life. I believe the “differences” in her character relate to her being seen originally as a famous young actress with a relatively carefree life. Later, when she appears in Refugee, she has matured a great deal, raised a family, mourned children – no character can be unchanged by such things.
In the scenes with Saba Sebatyne in Refugee, I found her struggle with old Imperial xenophobia very believable. Since Syal grew up in an Empire that excluded non-humanoid species from society, which created an artificial fear of unfamiliar beings. Syal was clinging to that xenophobic mindset years after leaving the Empire, because to some extent the Chiss perpetuate similarly isolationist thinking. Also, Syal went into “auto-protect” mode because Wynssa was there. Without thinking, Syal perceived Saba as a threat, yet warmed to her as she saw Saba’s kindliness toward her young daughter.
From her appearance in Refugee, I also had the feeling that Syal is conflicted about returning to Known Space again. Since her son Jag has taken up residence – and family – there, I suspect Syal thinks it is time for them to leave the Chiss and return from what has essentially been a hiding place. The only thing holding her back is the fear for her family that was well-expressed in Refugee. This is perhaps her finest quality, and also her Achilles heel.
Here I am back at “family” again. As a theme, it is inseparable from anyone named Fel.
Kay: I definitely agree on Syal being the heart of the Fels in both a central and a loving sense. In a way she’s their home base. Many of the family members go out and do their thing. Syal holds down the fort. She gives them somewhere to come back to and recognize as being home. To be able to provide that comfort and stability is a powerful thing.
On top of that, Soontir and Syal did so much to protect their family and still lost several of their children at rather young ages. I can only imagine the inner strength required to come through that and keep moving forward. The idea of Syal wanting to return to Known space is interesting. Of course we’ve had a really restricted perspective in the most recent books on the Fel position in the Ascendancy, but it kind of seems like they’re at the end of a path out there already so leaving isn’t out of the question – if they haven’t already.
Tricia: Syal, to me, is the great unknown in the strong female characters of Star Wars. I imagine she would have to be tough as nails to become a holostar, plus extremely talented. Really we know more about her from the men in her life – between her brother Wedge, her husband Soontir, and her son Jag, we can extrapolate quite a bit about who she is. Having grown up in a military brat, I understand how that life demands as much of the spouse as it does of the soldier. I see her as the glue of the Fel family.
The youngest Fel daughter, Wynssa, seemed to have a strong character in Refugee. She has been mentioned in several books but only had that one direct appearance. What do you think she has been up to?
Mary: There are so many possibilities!
Based on the Wynssa we saw in Refugee, she is a true Fel and wants to be in the middle of some kind of action. Of course, it is possible that she is chafing under the strict supervision from her parents who might guard their only living daughter closely. This would be supported, too, given that the family has integrated themselves with an insular society in an isolated environment. If there is a child the Fels would protect with ferocity, I think it would be Wynssa.
That said, she was shown to be of strong character and keen mind. She is a Fel who would make a great Intel officer – perhaps a protégé for her Aunt Iella Antilles? And, naturally, if she was Intel, we might not know about it… yet.
Wynssa was also rather fond of Jacen Solo – at a time when he was still Jacen – so I would love to know how his downfall and death affected her. In addition, Wynssa has lost siblings (although she was quite young at the time). Would that make her empathetic to new sister-in-law, Jaina, or would she be able to understand how a sister could kill her brother – in any circumstances?
Kay: I’m sure Wyn was raring to go for the first opportunity to do something she felt was important. In Refugee she seemed to be looking for a little adventure. Since we’re not clear on what the Fels did after Jag left for the bounty-hunting life, there’s a nice wide berth of opportunity. Had she taken on a position in Chiss government and faced adversity after the family fell out of favor? Has she integrated into the Empire of the Hand? Did Jag pull her in as a secret extra pair of ears in the Empire? Whatever she’s doing I’m sure she’s commits to it fully – she is a Fel after all.
Tricia: I always imagined she had the acting bug, but used it in service of Chiss or the Empire of the Hand. Wyn Fel, Super Spy – the possibilities are limitless. As Kay suggests, it would have been cool to see some random Imperial female officer save the Imperial Head of State, then have the unexpected twist of her being his sister, or at least being able to wonder if she might be. Mary points out a great potential strained family dynamic, which shows up often as a theme in fanfiction, but is rarely explored in the books or comics.
What are your thoughts about Chak Fel and his place in the Fel family?
Mary: Chak is an enigma – the “wraith” of the Fel family, if you will. Is he real? Was he actually born to Syal? Is he a Soontir clone, taken in by, and treated as one of the family? Is he, in fact, the Fel we know as “Davin”? I am not yet convinced of anything regarding Chak, except that his official dossier is pretty thin and I’d love to see a lot more files about him made public.
Kay: So far I’ve accepted the idea that Davin and Chak are the same person. Those Fels can be a rather mysterious bunch. They tend to only let on what they want to. If they have a shadow child, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to have one child operating under multiple identities. If a book comes out that shows this isn’t the case, I certainly wouldn’t argue it. This is just what makes sense to me right now.
Tricia: Honestly, the whole Chak thing irks me. I don’t mind the idea of a shadow child or any of the other possibilities, but the open-ended vagueness really didn’t lend itself to any crucial storytelling or characterization point. In the end, I think introducing Chak made it more difficult to use the Fels because the author would need to wade through the continuity muck before ever getting started.
Various authors and their characters (as well as fans) often accuse Jag of lacking personality or being “too grim.” In light of such criticisms, what do you think it is about Jag that has given his character longevity in the EU?
Mary: I have always suspected that “grim” is the mask that Jagged Fel constructed to cover his intense grief over the loss of his siblings, Davin and Cherith. When he joined the Alliance fleet, he met his Uncle Wedge Antilles (and was surprised to be received with open arms), became intrigued with Jaina Solo, and developed an understanding and empathy for the Alliance cause. These experiences and more caused the “grim” mask to crack and gradually fall away. There are many scenes in which he is shown to be growing and changing as a man (for example, the hangar “talk” he received from Shawnkyr during the Yuuzhan Vong war regarding his priorities and maintaining his focus). Most, if not all, of those scenes either involve or lead to Jag peeling away his old mask.
As far as his EU longevity is concerned, Jag is an intensely heroic character who – reminiscent of his father, Soontir – keeps coming back from adversity to give the bad guys a little more of their own medicine. After his first few appearances, I liked Jag but he wasn’t one of my favorites. It was during the Borleias campaign that I finally saw intrinsic value in his character.
People were dropped into space by the Yuuzhan Vong. They were alive, terrified, and drifting – being pulled by gravity into planetary atmosphere where they would flash-burn into atoms. With the entire Alliance floundering for a way to avoid this seemingly unstoppable tragedy, Jag slowed his clawcraft almost to stationary, then gently bumped one person, and another, and another. He changed their trajectories and gave rescue craft time to retrieve them. That scene made Jag’s character for me. He was the man Soontir and Syal raised him to be.
Kay: I always thought his grimness came from the culture in which he grew up. The Chiss are very stiff-upper-lip and are considered an adult at a younger age than most humans. Everyone is filling a role to advance their society and they take it very seriously. But the Chiss weren’t the only influence on him. He was raised by two Corellians who also conformed to a certain degree to the society they were living in as an example. So I think Jag probably let more of his personality come out when he was at home, but when he was doing his job he was all business. The grief probably factored in, too, but during the Yuuzhan Vong War, he was there on business as a representative of the Ascendancy.
With Mary seeing it as a mask and me seeing it more as compartmentalizing, I think we both would still agree that there was a strong personality under there all along. It just had to be eased out. He also had to get more familiar with his surroundings. He was in a situation where the only Chiss were the ones who came with him. So it’s this mélange of cultures and strangers (including an uncle he’d never met before) and that could take some warming up to – especially if you’re from an ice planet. I really enjoyed watching him develop as a character and – probably because I connected so much with Jaina – I was intrigued by him from the get-go. The son and daughter of old rivals cross paths. There was so much possibility there.
And I agree with Mary on the longevity aspect as far as Jag being so heroic. I think he also has staying power though because even after all these years he still is full of surprises. There’s also the badassery factor. I’d be more willing to say he uses that more reserved persona as a mask in public nowadays, which allows him to surprise people with badass moves. Other characters set constraints or boundaries and Jag deftly moves within them and makes them work for him.
Tricia: From his first appearance in the books, I read Jag as serious, yet possessing a keen sense of humor. He has a smart, dry wit that’s very British. Although hanging around the Rebels has definitely loosened him up a bit.
As for Jag’s longevity, he was a well-crafted character, especially as a foil for Jaina and her family. Stackpole created a vivid character that stands on his own, much like Zahn had done for Mara. It is interesting, as a longtime fan, to watch how impressions change over time. Mara wasn’t nearly as well-loved or as praised in her earliest days as she is now. Jag went through the same cycle as she did. Like Mara, Jag was designed as a good person – a hero – but his morality doesn’t necessarily align with the main characters’ morality. He is ruthless and a survivor and, because his point of view is rarely used, he is an enigma of sorts. This leaves him very open to storytelling potential.
Do you believe that Jag’s marriage to Jaina Solo will affect the Fel family’s involvement in future EU novels?
Mary: In a word, “Yes!” In five words, “Good grief, I hope so!” Given the number of FFFs (Fel Family Fans) in our known universe, I do not understand how EU book crafters can ignore the incredible potential for drama, adventure, humor – you name it – available by bringing the Fels and the Solos together. It isn’t logical for Jag not see his family, or for them not to know Jaina. Looking forward to the Sword of the Jedi storyline, surely Soontir and Syal will be keeping track of their son and his wife. Unfortunately, the obvious is sometimes overlooked, or worse, allowed to play out off-page. I choose to believe that won’t happen with the Fels.
That’s my take and I’m sticking to it.
Kay: I also hope so. Beyond my own desire to see and learn more about the Fels, I agree that there is so much story potential by bringing them back onto the page – even if it’s some holocom calls. Having the rest of the family in the picture can bring even more dimensionality and a richness to both Jag and Jaina’s characters.
Tricia: Hopefully someone grabs the Fel family continuity hiccups of the last ten years – not by designing retcons but just making a call on Chak, the Chiss, the Empire of the Hand and so on – and we see more Fels. When you sit down and look at the potential in these characters, they just scream “great Star Wars archetypes!” Many fans have wondered about Wedge’s and Syal’s reunion, imagined some great Fel father-son clashes, giggled at the thought of Wyn tagging along with her older brothers and giving them fits, and laughed out loud at the possibility of future Grandpa Wars between old Academy rivals Soontir and Han. Just my two cents, but I’d pay good money to read about any of the above.
We’d love to hear more from you. Who is your favorite member of the Fel clan, and why?
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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