Lisa: First off we’ll let Jay say some of his initial reactions to the book.
Jay: So in general, I thought this was a great story. At first blush, it seemed like a generic ANH-ESB bridge novel — random adventures of the Big Three, with mostly filmic references. And really, that’s my only major complaint — namely that this is a Big Three story. Leia was a Rebel hero before she ever met Luke and Han, and I really wish we had a chance to see her shine without the other two. That said, Luke doesn’t come in until the very end and Wells had a really fresh take on the Han and Leia romance. Maybe it’s because it’s different or maybe it’s because she’s a female author, but something about it felt more compelling than other authors’ takes on the initial stages of their romance.
Now as I just said, the story was better than the original impression would suggest. I like the high ratio of female protagonists to male protagonists, because it’s something we don’t see often: most generic soldier characters are males in EU works. I also like the way that Wells used EU: there are some nice, unobtrusive references that belie the notion that the Rebels series is not really focused on the EU. Yeah it’s mainly a filmic focus but it’s a filmic setting too — I didn’t think it too casual, or setting the stage for a reboot. I also especially liked the sense of scale, and the drama of the war. The main Imperial villain is a guy in a small customs corvette. He’s small fry — and he’s still a big threat. It gets the scope of the war right!
Lisa: Did you notice any EU references?
Jay: A few — mostly to species and objects, usually in descriptive scenes. I’m not a Wookieepedian, so I usually neglect to catch references to obscure ship types (like the corvette allegedly is) or things of that nature. I focus mostly on the “historical” aspects — the politics and the war itself. There wasn’t much EU there, and I’m not an expert on the establishment of Echo Base so I don’t know how it meshes in with all that. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me how many EU references there are as long as it’s a good book since the thing itself is, after all, EU.
Lisa: Yeah I feel the same way. I did notice some little used or completely new species and I enjoyed the way Wells spent the time to describe them and other things within the story. People have mentioned they couldn’t imagine the pirate base and I have a hard time with that because I actually thought she was quite descriptive. I thought it was nice to not have the characters in the same locations we always see them in.
Jay: Agree — and I admittedly zone out a lot during layout descriptions, and that happened a lot, so she must’ve described the place fairly well.
Lisa: So Leia as a main character. What did you think? Did the book play out as you expected? Did Wells write Leia accurately?
Jay: So at first I was really annoyed at Leia — she was stubborn, had to be in charge of everything, acted as if everything were her responsibility — and then it occurred to me that it’s probably dead on right. Leaders like her, especially those who have basically become a symbol, want to get out there and *do stuff*. But at the same time, they are so focused on the job that they forget their own needs and that’s something that I can easily see about her. She’s a Rebel With A Cause: that’s how we saw her in ANH, and that’s really what defines her in her early stages. This is before she has a family — and even when she thinks about Han in this book, she’s not like “oh gross he’s a smuggler I’m into nice men” — well, she at first doesn’t want to admit attraction, but when she finally does, she stops herself out of focus on DUTY. That’s important. And yeah, I’m rather conscious of the fact that I’m talking about this given that I complained earlier about this being about Leia + Han + Luke instead of just Leia herself, but given as Leia/Han is such a big part of the OT, the fact that Wells handled it so smartly is important. Honestly, I’m kind of sad that this isn’t a Leia trilogy she’s writing.
Also my favorite bits were the ones where Leia was all “oh honey…” (though obviously not in those words) whenever Metara flubbed. Leia’s thing from the start is that she’s not an ingénue — she’s a princess AND a warrior. Han notices how she’s not scared of Viest in the slightest during the final confrontation (because she’d faced down Vader, after all). And she knows how to play against a Lorrdian because of her diplomatic training, which for once is applied to a wartime situation: that’s how it should work, she should be able to use her skills to bluff her way out of situations (Han’s not the only one with a good sabacc face in the Big Three!).
Lisa: Agreed and I think in the Bantam era of books we used to see that side of Leia and it sort of disappeared when she started being a Jedi. It shouldn’t have, but it I think it did. We don’t usually agree, but I completely agree with what you’ve said on Leia. She was written very well and a definitely like Leia should have been written during this time period. I really enjoyed the insight into Leia’s mind that we get concerning how she feels about being a symbol and what she’d rather do instead.
I’ve also seen people complaining about the lack of Luke Skywalker in this book. Did you feel let down by Luke’s small involvement?
Jay: No. We see a lot of Luke. The latest Zahn books — set in a similar time period — are ostensibly about Mara Jade and stormtroopers, but there was a lot of Luke in them too. We know about Luke the farmboy, we know about Luke the pilot, and we know about Luke the budding Jedi. He’s been THE central focus of all of Star Wars — arguably more than Anakin Skywalker. You want Luke? Go everywhere else. It’s like people say about Yoda: Dark Rendezvous — the story didn’t need Obi-Wan and Anakin in it to sustain itself. I’d prefer it if there were no Luke at all. Leia shouldn’t be bound at the hip to the rest of the Big Three to be an important Rebel leader. She was someone when those two were nobodies.
Lisa: Yeah I think that part is something that people forget. Leia was going toe to toe with Vader and the Empire for quite awhile before we met her and yet she seemed to take a back seat to Luke’s Jedi stories. Now we do get some great diplomatic mission stuff from her, but during this time frame we have almost nothing and I’m excited to see the EU finally addressing it. This should be Leia’s era to shine in and she hasn’t been given the chance before this book.
Jay: Yeah — the Jedi thing is a good point. People forget that Rebels are popular too. Remember the X-wing series? Remember the EU and games before the Prequels? Yeah, there was a lot of Jedi stuff too because Jedi were mysterious… but Rebels vs. Empire was big too, and Leia’s a huge part of it. Much more than Han and Leia. And we’ve seen a lot of Leia the President in the EU (though I wish we saw more of her AS president, as opposed to what we got: which was her going on adventures and doing anything but being president) and now we’re seeing a lot of Leia the Jedi in the EU, but we almost never get Leia the Rebel. There’s a great Leia-centric comic in SW: Empire that comes to mind, and there’s a great young Leia story in Tales but that’s about it… actually, the one part of TFU that I liked a lot was how it handled the young Leia, just before she joined the Senate. She was barbed and witty, but also conscientious and courageous: stuff we saw about Leia in the films and early EU but forgot after that. Remember, this is the woman to whom it meant a LOT that her romantic partner joined the fight and became a general. The Rebellion IS her life.
Lisa: Ok, now the tough question: Did this book actually break down some barriers for diversity?
Jay: I’m not sure if I’m the right person to ask if it crosses barriers. I think it does better than most? There are a ton of alien characters, and out of all the main characters in the story, we have a large set of females: Leia, Metara, Viest, Sian, and Terae. All of them get in on the action and the fighting, and none of them really need help from the male characters (except the characters who are less experienced, but they equally need help from people like Leia). Does it really break barriers though? Hard to say, perception’s a tricky thing: there’s that oft-quoted thing about how men perceive a 80/20 percent ratio to be gender equal but a 50/50 ratio to be dominated by females. Whether that’s true or not I can’t say, but certainly being a male means I inherently see things differently — so really, I’m more concerned with how you saw the diversity, Lisa.
Lisa: So as I was reading this book I couldn’t help but notice how diverse it was. Was I kidding myself? There was a definite increase in females in every type of role throughout the book. There were new species of nonhumans. One of the main female crew members was described as having dark skin and Kelvan also was described as having dark skin. I also think that not only is it important to have these types of characters included (species, race, female) but it is more important in how they’re used and portrayed. Like you mentioned the females for the most part were written as being strong. I complained about one part during a Leia scene where she’s fighting the droid in the death match and somehow Han comes to the rescue when he really shouldn’t have been there. In a normal EU book I think I wouldn’t have had an issue with it, but in a book that was supposed to showcase Leia and a book that had a definite increase in female characters it bugged me.
Jay: I did think his random rescue was weird and unnecessary, especially since Leia had done most of the hard work already and since he just left, it’s not like his presence contributed a single thing. All it did was make her mad that he’d left the ship, which was info that could’ve gotten to her some other way. And yeah, now that you mention it, the dark-skinned characters did stand out to me in the very beginning because authors usually rarely go through the trouble of describing color, which generally tends to mean they later get depicted as white.
Lisa: Yeah that’s what I think Wells did better than any other author we’ve had. She really went all out in describing the characters and in doing so she gave us the diversity we’ve been after. Is it equal yet? No. But it is a much appreciated step in the right direction and hopefully a wake up call to other authors that they need to describe these characters better. I’m not a costumer, but she described the pirate antagonist Captain Aral tukor Viest so well that I could definitely put together a costume if I wanted to. Down to the minute detail of her scar on her face and the lining of her coat.
Anything else to add, Jay?
Jay: To Del Rey: More Martha Wells, and more Leia. Thanks! Seriously it’s about time.
(Editor’s Note: for Lisa’s full review of Razor’s Edge, click here. And thanks to Del Rey and Tricia Barr for the awesome cast picture by Magali Villeneuve—we’ll be watching her career with great interest!)