Knight of Shadows

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Title: Knight of Shadows
Publisher: Poison Pen Press
Author(s): Karen Osman, edited by Devra Michelle
Cover Artist(s): eluki bes shahar
Illustrator(s): Carol Waterman
Date(s): May 1982
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars
Language: English
External Links: Online version
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Knight of Shadows is a gen Star Wars 116-page novel written by Karen Osman. Interior illustrations are by Carol Waterman. The fanzine is off-set, has two covers - a wrap-around outside dust jacket designed by eluki bes shahar and an inside cover by Carol Waterman. It includes the poem "Nothing Left to Lose" by Maggie Nowakowska which appeared in Skywalker #3.

Masiform D Supplementary Issues

  • Threshold, Masiform D Supplementary Issue #1
  • One Way Mirror, Masiform D Supplementary Issue #2
  • Knight of Shadows, Masiform D Special Supplementary Issue #3


  • "A novel of the young Darth Vader, the Jedi, and betrayal." [1]
  • "[Knight of Shadows offers] one fan's version of Darth Vader and his decision to align with the Empire." [2]
  • "Why did Darth Vader's royal bride despise him? Why would the Lord of the Sith forsake everything - power, position, his newborn son - to become a Jedi? He pusued a dream - but whose dream? A pre-Jedi story." [3]
  • "Story of a young Darth Vader on Sith - heir to Dark Lord - married - has child - cousin usurps title - goes to Ben to become Jedi - then taken over by the Emperor." [4]

The Zine's Dedication: by Osman

"about the author" -- illo by Eluki bes Shahar

This story is dedicated, with all my thanks, to

Susan Matthews, Pam Kowalski, and Barbara Tennison,

who gave me Ideas;

Barbara Wenk, Joyce Yasner, and Devra Langsam,

who gave me Moral Support;

And most of all, with my everlasting gratitude, to

Anne Elizabeth Zeek,

who gave me Fandom, too.

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . (actually, about two years ago in New York at Mos' Eastly Con) ... my editor, Anne Elizabeth Zeek, was going over my second Raan story. "Boy, Karen," she said in her typically diplomatic editorial fashion, "your rebel characters really stink. Totally unbelievable."

"True, Anne," I said, shuffling my feet and looking guilty. "You're absolutely right; I can't do rebels at all."

Well," she said, "what are you going to do about it?"

I know, I said brightly, "I'll write a story just for you, with no rebels in it at all."

And so here it is, Anne Elizabeth Zeek; just for you—a story with no rebels in it at all...

From the Editorial: by Langsam

I was planning to write an elegant, long editorial, full of sly little

jokes about STAR TREK and STAR WARS, to show that I hadn't deserted the one from a new affection for the other. I was going to go on about how ^ did the editing for this story, even if Karen does refer to Anne as 'her editor' in the note. I was going to go on and on . . . but then, I wasn't planning to write this 'on the stick' at 10:30 Friday morning when it should have gone to press Monday previous . . .


An Excerpt

"Obi-Wan Kenobi sat for a moment enjoying the damp, alive smell of the air from the garden outside. The danger seemed absurd, a paranoid fantasy, in this peaceful moment. Ridiculous -- Darth was no Imperial! He was just confused. Darth had been his since he was six years old, when the conditioning had been imprinted on him. That was too deeply imbedded [sic] by now for anyone but a Jedi master to detect. No, the conditioning was safe -- and Darth was safe. It must be a false alarm. Doubtless it would all look very silly in the morning..."

the whole dustjacket, including the blurbs on the inside, click to enlarge


Reactions and Reviews


I read this manuscript with total fascination in a single Sunday afternoon. My immediate reaction was, "Wow! That's a pretty good piece of writing." Therefore I say to the potential buyer, "get it. It's a lot of fun, better than 75% of what is currently being published in fandom, and you can't beat the price with a stick." However, let me add a there are some major flaws here. They do not destroy the tale but a discerning reader will have qualm or two. Let me applaud Karen for her knowledge of historical family intrigues. Her version of Vader sounds very similar to the scheming souls of the Plantagenets. One of the most important statements made by Darth Vader's father, Walde, is that "A Dark Lord must trust no one, depend on no one, love no one." Excellent advice since no one is safe to trust anyone else in this universe. The Dark Lord holds absolute power over the Sith system, and Darth as heir to the throne is the focal point for all the powers that wish to control Sith. Among those who treat Darth as their pawn are Walde, Darth's father; Jessha, the childbride; Obi-wan (you can't trust him either), and Koric, another contender for the throne. There is only one person throughout the entire novel who even begins to care for Darth himself, and she turns out to be too self-centered to take the emotional risks required (although she does take the physical risk, to give her credit). If I'm honest, I read this book with fascination simply because these people were so thoroughly competent at back-biting. Among the characters we see, expressions of love are almost impossible if not unacceptable. Still, it is exciting to watch the battles done here. Walde and Obi-Wan are two magnificent father figures doing battle for a spiritual son. This is a major plot conflict, being both a political one and an emotional one. The Sith hate the Empire and the Jedi equally. The Jedi, in return, frown on the Sith. Indeed, Walde characterizes the Jedi as being " .. a ridiculously snobbish group, making great secrets out of Force techniques the Sith had known for centuries ... " while Obi-Wan merely sees the Sith Force training as laughable.

Karen has done a very good job with these two characters and I'd like to see more of Vlalde in other stories. Another person who early on battles for domination of Darth is his young bride, Jessha. Unfortunately, the young vixen has not the slightest idea of the stakes involved or the caliber of the men with Whom she's competing. And in the end, the only power she has (and it is of short duration) is the child she bears Darth. Jessha isn't nearly as well conceived as the other characters. Initially, we see her as a much-loved child in the heart of a loving family circle. But my credulity was strained at the idea of a 14-year-old girl cherishing a rage for a full two years when the initial provocation was a relatively minor incident on a dance floor. Awkward perhaps, agreed, but worth the sort of mindless rage Jessha develops? But in contrast stands the dashing, lovely, and (it almost goes without saying) independent Corellian, Catryn, a fellow student at the Jedi monastery. Catryn is impertinent, defensive, and at times, just a touch bawdy, but she is the nicest person poor Darth ever comes in contact with. I had to stop and consider at the end of this novel which character it was that I was supposed to feel the most sympathy with. It is true that Darth is being manipulated on every side, but his rage upon discovering how he has been used does not motivate him into any constructive use of his phenomenal talents. Instead, he allows his rage to drag him down into the mud with all the others. He becomes violent in an irrational manner, slamming a door- warden up against the wall upon arrival at an offworld Jedi monastery. This is irrational not because we've never seen Darth in a violent rage prior to this, but because the provocation is once again so minor in retrospect.

Inevitably, we lose sympathy with Darth Vader because of this. This is in keeping, however, with mainline SWars. Karen doesn't whitewash the man, she simply makes it a little more understandable how he became the dark figure he is. In a larger sense, the novel is a story of conflict between person codes of honor and technological strategy and consistency. A subsidiary plot line involves the young Prince Koric who, while offworld, becomes involved with a set of radical revolutionaries from Alderaan. However Pera'u, the Alderaani commander, does not really have the heart of a glorious Alliance rebel. Instead, he is disgusted by the peasants, the very people Koric, out of a Lord's responsibility to his serfs, wishes to help. One is tempted to laugh at the portrait painted of Pera'u, a bleeding heart liberal who is offended by poverty when it is contrary to his romanticized view. The novel has a romantic setting, basically, but in other ways it is realistic in dealing with the feudal patterns of politics and marriage. The answers to TESB's questions are well-grounded. In essence, I suppose I would warn the buyer that this is not a sugar-sweet world but it is a remarkably honest one, Which brings me back to my original statement. Sure, go ahead and buy it. It's a lot of fun, better than 75% of what is currently being published in fandom, and you can't beat the price with a stick.[5]


I think George Lucas has never quite decided whether Darth Vader was a fully independent, contumacious individual who used the Emperor only until he could overthrow him, or just a submissive pawn doing Empie's bidding. If we take JEDI as the final word on the subject, he was closer to the latter than the former. But it's not all that easy to dismiss Vader's plea to Luke in TESB to join him in his quest for power which, if successful, would have presumably eclipsed the Emperor's. In 1982, Devra Langsam's Poison Pen Press published a novel by Karen Osman which took the first possibility as fact. The new edition has a magnificent jacket by eluki bes shahar which would look great framed on a wall. Her three figures are gorgeously detailed, although I think the woman with whom Darth spars has an overly-long left leg. Her faces are memorable in their features and expressions; not an easy thing to do with original faces. The most striking part of the jacket is the back where Darth's bride wears a luxuriously decorated and medieval gown (but too earth-like). The effect of the jacket is to pose the contrast between Darth's Sithian bride and her confined, restricted life—wonderfully symbolized by the enormously bulky gown—and the freedom of Darth's life at the Jedi Academy, half-clothed, sparring with an independent woman wearing less clothing. The enslaved bride looks on while her husband, his back to her, abandons her. And in between are the Empire's TIE fighters. This is a perfect representation of the story inside.

I cannot be as enthusiastic about Carol Waterman's illos, however. Most of them are sterile, unclear as to their meaning and, for the most part, do not illustrate. Her cover of Darth, however, captures his dark aloofness, but not very much his personality. Waterman's illos of young Ben Kenobi are terrifically accurate—love to see Alec Guiness' young face as he is a favorite actor of mine. I just wish she had illoed him more in-depth, within the action of the story. This is not a story about rebels. It is set way before ANH. It begins on Sith, a medieval-type "primitive" world not yet in the Emperor's pocket. Our main character here is Jessha, future bride and first cousin of the young Lord Darth Vader, son of Sith's ruler, the Duke Walde. It is a world with traditional court marriages, chauvinist attitudes toward women and a history of powerful nonJedi Force use. The plot on Sith centers around a conflict between those who want Sith to retain its autonomy and culture, with only very gradual introduction of Empire technology (if at all) to prevent peasant anger (Darth and his father represent that point of view) and Jessha's brother, Koric, who represents the modernists. The latter want to accept Alderaan's offer of technology and modernization. A civil war ensues and ultimately Darth is forced to flee and goes to the Jedi Academy, where he has always wanted to be trained by General Kenobi. I was struck by the strong parallels to such wars on Earth, where poorer countries rebel against modernization because it always takes away their culture and traditions.

Congratulations to Osman for having some class consciousness. There are some excellent ideas here on technology and poverty. The arguments against technology as a panacea for poverty are presented well, with one character pointing out that the oh-so-modern Alderaan simply has hidden, rather than nonexistent poverty. There is also a strong cultural conflict wherein the Alderaanians, who fight in Koric's army, hold only contempt for Sith and its supposed backwardness, much like the developed world of Earth and its attitudes toward the so-called "underdeveloped" world. The Alderaanians assume that the Sithians are bad warmakers and fighters without modern weapons and that Sith simply "must" enter the modern galaxy. Yet it is clear that Sith's aloofness and "primitive" culture is what has kept it relatively free from the Emperor's grasp. The whole effect is to create sympathy for Darth's position, his hatred of dependence on machinery. We see clearly that Sith has much that the modern galaxy lacks. Problems? A few: for all that we hear of the peasant's and their interests, we never really meet them, except for one scene in which a group of them confronts and then shirks away from Koric's army. You'd be surprised how bold peasants can be when angry. Superior weapons or authority don't always stop them. But this is primarily Darth's story.

Then, too, there is the entire society Osman portrays. It is just too much like feudal Europe. And there is the rather unoriginal plotline of the trapped princess with desires and ideas of her own, forced into a loveless marriage, raped on her wedding night and then later assisting in the downfall of her husband. However, this first part is very strong in characters, richness of atmosphere and ideas. Yet the second part on the Empire's capitol world at Ruwenjorin, the Jedi Academy, doesn't succeed as well. It never really comes to life. We never get the sense of an exciting school, the center of galactic life, the diversity one would expect in such a setting. And I think I understand why. Intentional or not on Osman's part, it is a potent contrast to the vitality of Sith, a supposedly unsophisticated world. On Ruwenjorin, there is no real warmth, whereas Sith is replete with it, as well as other, more destructive passions. Darth's culture shock is presented well here. His first encounter with a robocab is at once amusing and sobering, as he muses on the effects such a machine-slave has on a man's soul. Then there is Darth's affair with Catryn, a tough and independent Corellian, totally unlike the repressed women of his world. Unfortunately, Catryn never seems real, but a mere device to show us Darth's growth.

Her slang ("fat chance") and descriptions of her family are often jarringly Earth-like, reminiscent of some TV movie set in middle America, not an alien situation. There is one minor character at the Academy who struck me as wonderfully distinct in the midst of all the sameness. He is an aide to Kenobi, Mond Vesserek, a very witty, wise old man who rivals any of Lucas' similar creations. I love distinctive elderly characters like this that exude presence, power and humility simultaneously yet with the physical appearance of a timorous old cat. This is a character that should've been illoed! I like Osman's Vader. She never tries to give him any smarmy scenes where we see his "heart of gold" inside that gruff exterior. He's a complex, driven, prejudiced man with his own integrity and even admirable ethics about humanity. The latter quality makes his forced entrapment in a technological shell truly horrific and tragic. At the last he is beyond anything else, a Sith lord, a proud product of his culture, using the Emperor for his own means. Yet he is also the victim of Kenobi's manipulative designs. Many fans won't like Osman's Kenobi, but after Jedi, I'm willing to believe her interpretation, although I find it a bit one-dimensional. Vader's victimization by powerful galactic forces reminds me of the fate of many Third World officials, forever caught in the choking web of the West. Her themes of technology show tremendous sensitivity. Read it! [6]


Vader has had his ups and downs in fan fiction. Before Jedi he was most often depicted as a black-hearted villain with no redeeming qualities. But before TOSB he had a more ambivalent treatment. ...But after TESB Vader returned to being an out-and-out villain. His strangling of officers for offenses beyond their control and lopping off his own son's hand re-earned him super-evil status. He seemed to have lost the redeemable qualities that appealed to fan authors after Star Wars.

A few did develop their own views of the Dark Lord. Karen Osman wrote a novel. Knight of Shadows, which showed him as a young man whose heritage as Dark Lord of the Sith controlled his destiny. Osman created a culture whose politics and intrigues explained Vader's subsequent behavior.[7]


Osman's KNIGHT OF SHADOWS is an excellent novel... but her Obi Wan was a prize jerk. KOS didn't make me dislike him; it made me wish that this talented author had shown as sympathetic a view of him as she'd shown on Vader. I think even a non-Vader fan would love Osman's Dark Lord.[8]


...[a] version of Darth Vader's youth and his decision to align himself with the Empire. Osman develops the story through a series of shifting perspectives that complicate any easy assignment of moral values...By the conclusion, the reader is uncertain how to feel about Darth's decision to align himself with the Emperor rather than with the Jedi, even though that ambivalence stands in stark contrast to the moral certainty of the original Star Wars films. There are no good guys and bad guys in the realm of court intrigue Osman creates, simply people struggling to promote their self interests and to survive in a treacherous world.[9]


Maybe I missed something somewhere in A NEW CHALLENGE, but where did you read that Owen took on Beru's last name of Lars? I don't recall them ever even being mentioned. The only story I ever read where he did that was KNIGHT OF SHADOWS, when they fled to Tatooine to keep Luke hidden from Vader's cousin, Koric. (This is a good zine for Vader fans. It's an alternate version of Vader's fall. And for those of you who dislike Kenobi—you'll dislike him even more by the time you're done. It's offered by Poison Pen Press [address redacted]. I want my check for that one! Will someone please inform Karen Osman for me? (And, uh, put a "sir"—or "ma'am"—on that. She outranks me in the Imperial Forces, and I'd rather not find out what happens to an Ensign who's court-martialed for insubordination in the Empire...) [10]


Yes, it’s a Darth Vader origin story written before Return of the Jedi! And a strange one to be reading so many years later, after 5 movies have rendered it further and further from the source canon. The name Anakin Skywalker is never mentioned. Luke is not referred to by name until the last page. And of course, there is no Padme Amidala. This is a novel of royal intrigue, with the Sith vying against the Jedi (with Darth Vader caught between his Sith birthright and his longing to be a Jedi Knight.)

Modern fans are probably baffled by all this. You have to remember, there was a time when two movies and a bunch of toy backing card bios were pretty much all we had in the way of canon. We knew Darth Vader was a Sith Lord; we didn’t have any real idea what a Sith Lord was. We didn’t have a history of the Empire or the Republic, we didn’t know who Luke’s mother was, and we had only just found out about Vader being his father. Or rather, Vader’s claim that he was Luke’s father. Yoda wouldn’t confirm this was true until The Return of the Jedi in 1983. (In 1982, this movie-in-production was still being referred to as Revenge of the Jedi.) Back then, it was possible Vader was lying, or telling the truth but not being Anakin Skywalker. And Leia being Luke’s sister was a bombshell dropped in Jedi, something probably no fan had even considered until that movie was released.

[This zine] was one I bought simply because the cover amused me. That looooooming Darth Vader with the flaring ears makes me snicker. In spite of that, it’s a pretty kickass cover, and it certainly grabs the attention. The story’s not without its flaws (even considering the time period it was written in,) but it’s worth reading. I’ve seen copies as low as $5 on eBay (which is what I paid for this one.) It’s not a bad collectible for a Star Wars fan to have on their shelf....

#you kids think the dumping of the old EU is a kick in the fan guts now? #we were watching Star Wars side novels and fan stories being rendered canon nonsensical as early as 1981 #The series has always broken our hearts #but we keep coming back to it anyway #And all those disowned EUs will live on in our hearts #No matter where the series ultimately goes.[11]