It’s generally quite tricky to get truly accurate sales figures for Star Wars books but Publisher’s Weekly has some that make for an interesting read:
|1999||Star Wars: Episode 1, The Phantom||Terry Brooks||1,419,852|
|Star Wars: The New Jedi Order, Vector Prime||R.A.Salvatore||200,000+|
|2002||Star Wars: Attack of the Clones||R.A. Salvatore||784,750|
|Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way||Walter Jon Williams||100,000+|
|2003||Star Wars: The New Jedi Order—The Unifying Force||James Luceno||107,775|
|2005||StarWars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith||Matthew Woodring Stover||431,426|
|Star Wars: Dark Lord, the Rise of Darth Vader||James Luceno||137,661|
|2009||Star Wars: The Force Unleashed||Sean Williams||103,232|
|Star Wars: The Clone Wars||Karen Traviss||101,146|
|Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Invincible||Troy Denning||101,034|
|2012||Star Wars: Darth Plagueis||James Luceno||31,543|
|Star Wars: Apocalypse||Troy Denning||26,140|
Source: Publishers Weekly
First, it would appear if you want big sales ensure you have a Star Wars movie to adapt – failing that, a cartoon will do. But even in the case of the latter, the bump is notably reduced when you compare Clone Wars to the Prequel novelizations.
What is of more interest are the books by Luceno – both can be said to form part of what has come to be the Lucenoverse. This is not a new development but rather the latest in a long tradition. It has something of a companion in what has been dubbed the Reavesverse. There should be nothing surprising in that authors like to build a sense of mini-continuity between their works. It also can make for a more satisfying reader experience as they spot the links between works.
An early EU collaboration was between Veitch and Anderson in creating the Tales of the Jedi series, with Anderson using the villain Exar Kun in a trilogy set millennia later. Veitch had set up the TOTJ project via the Dark Empire story that alluded to his fate. In comparison to another creative partnership, this fizzled out quite quickly while the Zahn-Stackpole one was considerably more successful. This saw the plots of Bantam’s run drawn together into a more cohesive form, with the authors sharing characters between them and working together on a couple of short stories.
Nor is it limited to books. The work of John Ostrander, with his frequent artistic collaborator, Jan Duursema, demonstrates how it can work in comics. Having done a very successful run on the Republic comic, they followed that up with the controversial Legacy comics and are now working on Dawn of the Jedi. They linked their first two works via the device of long-lived alien characters amongst others. Will they find a way for their latest work to tie in despite 25 millennia? I would not bet against it happening!
But why do these mini-verses matter at all? In every franchise there is a top-tier of works that receive the most attention. For DC Comics it is Batman and Superman; for Marvel, Avengers and X-Men. For Star Wars, it is the further adventures of Luke, Han and Leia. However, just as comic fans find the more innovative and more creatively experimental works in the second-tier titles, so is it true for Star Wars. Stackpole had his greatest success with a little corner of the EU called X-Wing.
That set of books worked by appealing to readers who were far more interested in the world of the EU than just that which the films presented. It is for these people that the author universes really take off – Ostrander built an entire epic around the character of Quinlan Vos. Michael Reaves, with a couple of collaborators, takes a handful of characters across the years and series. It starts off in Shadow Hunter, continues into the Clone Wars series of MedSTAR and then into Coruscant Nights, with the latest book being The Last Jedi. Do they sell big? Not at all, but that Reaves keeps being able to write books says they sell well-enough! Why? Reaves’ work is quite traditional at heart – he gives you a set of characters to back, support and follow and then has various adventures happen to them. He is also credited with doing Darth Vader justice which is an accomplishment in itself.
Luceno’s work is more subtle, but the major reason for why his work is praised is because it takes the quite rancid political plots of the Prequels and does something quite extraordinary with them. He starts off by making Cloak of Deception raise Episode 1 up considerably, he then follows that up with Labyrinth of Evil, a Clone Wars story and very effective prequel to Episode 3, that in turn is followed by Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. Yet these 3 books are but the prologue to his finale, Darth Plagueis. This was once deemed a step too far by Lucasfilm, the project got put on ice then got defrosted. Why? Because it focuses on Sidious’ master! This represents heights undreamt of for a miniverse book!
What is even more surprising is that Luceno’s 2 books – this and the prior Dark Lord one – both out-sold their Big 3 counterparts according to the Publishers Weekly figures. Dark Lord beat the finale to the Legacy of the Force series, Invincible and Darth Plagueis went and stomped on Apocalypse, the Fate of the Jedi finale. One reason might be that while the series finales have Luke, Han and Leia, albeit around 40 years later, the Luceno books have Darth Vader, the man who would be Emperor and the mysterious figure who instructed him! In certain select instances then the film boost can be tapped in more subtle ways than just being a novelization or using the big 3.
Nonetheless, a large part of the thrill and enjoyment of author miniverses resides in the sense that they are a secret. That not as many people know about them, so you, the reader, are privy to cool information that other people are not. In this respect, like second-tier superhero books, they will continue to exercise appeal, regardless of whether this is reflected in sales.
Will there be such opportunities available to future authors? Very hard to say given the Episode 7 announcement. It does require too a certain confidence on the publisher as well. One incentive for publishers is such sets of material, once they have gained a positive reputation, can sell very well and keep doing so.