General Grievous: Choosing Cybernetics in the Star Wars Universe

Revisiting an old The Clone Wars episode in season one made me wonder: Is Lucasfilm sitting on an epic General Grievous story?

credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Many fans know him as the cybernetic, General of the droid army, and a main antagonist of The Clone Wars (both the Tartakovsky micro-series and the Lucas/Filoni series). Many more only know him as the antagonist Obi-Wan killed in Revenge of the Sith, one that seemed like a convenient plot device to get Obi-Wan to Utapau and away from Anakin for Order 66.

General Grievous’s first appearance came in 2004 for Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network (Chapter 20). The short episode plays out like a horror film where members of the Jedi Order are hunted and pinned down among ship ruins by a mysterious military strategist that announces himself boldly to the Jedi:

Some of the Jedi are resolved but it is clear that some are fearful. One unfortunate Padawan, unable to take the quiet tension of waiting to be attacked and hearing the cybernetic footsteps inching closer, attempts to flee and is horrifically crushed by Grievous. It is not violent but it is still disturbing. And Grievous proves to be more than a formidable opponent to the team of Jedi, killing a few and injuring the rest before the clone troopers save the day.

credit Lucasfilm ltd.

I bring this up because in Revenge of the Sith but more so in The Clone Wars series, his intimidating presence gets watered down close to a punchline of recurring situations: Grievous constantly takes losses and ends up leaving his droids behind while saving himself. He regularly fights Obi-Wan who seems to be a better match for the cybernetic warrior and who consistently mocks Grievous. Gone is the sense of dread every time he appears on screen paired with tense music, gone are the dead Jedi left in his wake (he is only really seen killing a few Jedi in canon even though there are many lightsabers on his belt when Obi-Wan kills him). There is some insight with one particular conversation where Grievous tells Obi-Wan that he has no loyalty to the Separatists and is not in the war because of politics, he is “the leader of the most powerful army the galaxy has ever seen.” And that’s the only real motivation we get from him in canon.

But in the tenth episode of season one, “Lair of Grievous,” we not only see the intimidating figure that appeared in the Cartoon Network series but a door to what could be a great origin canon tale. In the episode, Obi-Wan takes a backseat to Jedi Master Kit Fisco and his former Padawan/newly knighted Jedi Nahdar Vebb as the two Jedi stumble into Grievous’s house of horrors.

Grievous is also put in a vulnerable position with two Jedi and clone troopers led to his home secretly by Dooku, but it is a different kind of vulnerable than someone who is always fleeing from battles. In the lair, the Jedi see cybernetic parts that make up Grievous but they also see statues of the organic being he once was. The warrior who “improved” himself throughout his life. There is an interesting story lurking beneath this lair. There is an interesting story lurking beneath this lair.

Sketches of Qymaen jai Sheelal (top) and the final model (bottom)| credit Lucasfilm ltd.

The canon story we do know of Grievous’s early life comes from Star Wars reference books and some elements that have been adapted from Legends. Grievous was once Qymaen jai Sheelal, a warlord and a Kaleesh, a sentient reptilian species from the planet Kalee. At some point, he was involved in an accident and had to have cybernetic replacements. He had a taste for it and went extreme, replacing more parts and becoming the most cybernetic person in canon with just a few organs left (brain, eyes, heart, and lungs). And there is an interesting and valuable story of the psyche of a person willing to replace their humanity (we’ll use that term to refer specifically to sentient, organic beings) to become more cyborg.

There is also a commentary on what it means to be “human” in this galaxy versus droids as that line has blurred with more characters like Fennec Shand, who have large parts of their internal vital organs replaced. There are certainly droids like L3–37 who put themselves on the level of organics, and the constant coughing and wheezing from Grievous is meant to remind us that he is not a complete cyborg, even though his humanity may be gone. That journey would bring themes of humanity and identity with cybernetics to the forefront of Star Wars at a time when science and technological advancements continue to enhance cybernetic parts (bionic legs, prosthetic hands, hearing antennas, etc) to improve people’s lives. It would also be nice to see where the intense hatred for the Jedi came from (he is not the first person to hold a grudge against the Order but since it is part of his motivation it would be a crucial part of an origin story).

The prequel love is strong and ever-present right now and this is an underserved prequel character whose story deserves to be told in some form with a more serious tone. My preference would always be in a novel or comic series since that seems to be the more fertile ground for origins ( Tarkin by James Luceno and the Thrawn books being the standout), although a Grievous limited series is also appealing and would allow creators to tell a story that isn’t extensively covered in canon, and therefore not be tied down with pressure to just adapt an existing story.

For now, we only see Grievous after his transformation and as the cyber/organic hybrid he will die as in Revenge of the Sith, but this character’s journey began long before. Franchises love prequels, they are inevitable and come in many forms. Both Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are delving into the prequel series business on their respective streaming services. In Star Wars publishing, Del Rey is in the middle of a Thrawn prequel (for a character who has only been in animation but will likely be making a live-action debut with Ahsoka). George Lucas made an entire prequel trilogy of how Anakin Skywalker succumbed to the dark side and became “more machine than man.” But if anyone is truly more machine than a man in the Star Wars universe, it’s General Grievous. And it is time for that origin story to be told.

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