I recently had the pleasure of reading Tricia Barr’s first installment of the Fireheart series called Wynde. Some of you may know her from articles written for Star Wars: Insider or read her FANgirl blog. From the Amazon description the book sounded like a Star Wars type of story but it turned out to be an impressive display of everything I’m looking for with the future of Star Wars. I must admit that after mostly reading Star Wars books this year I was a little intimidated to be reading a new author’s work of almost 800 pages. It has been awhile since I’d picked up a book that long (probably Martin’s A Dance With Dragons) and so I timidly opened the book to begin. What unfolded has the potential to become my new favorite series. I am emphasizing “my” because I am somewhat of a special case. It is difficult for me to combine two passions in my life: Star Wars and horses. Tricia Barr manages to do that and so much more. The future of Star Wars can learn from this promising new author.
Anytime I start a new series I am fascinated with how authors choose to set things up. The Star Wars Expanded Universe benefited immensely from the brilliance of Timothy Zahn and how he wasn’t afraid to be descriptive enough to completely shape the galaxy for the future. Heir to the Empire’s 416 pages were packed with imagery needed for shaping a series. Wynde as the first installment to a series also accomplishes this. Star Wars needs to start over. Sure Episode VII is a continuation of 6 other movies, but really it needs to be the beginning of a new galaxy. It needs to be the starting point and provide us with enough information to build multiple stories into.
Wynde is a story following the lives of citizens as they really start to leave their secure places and explore the galaxy. At the beginning they don’t have space-worthy fighters (though they do have space-worthy ships). Star Wars doesn’t need to go back this far (I’d totally read a story where it did) but they do need to introduce new technology and I would love a movie that takes on the struggles of forming the New Republic. Just like an author beginning a new series, Star Wars needs to treat Episode VII as a new beginning with endless possibilities.
The Subtle Twist:
One thing that makes the Prequels less enjoyable for me is that there isn’t a subtle but major twist. Instead we already know that Anakin Skywalker is going to turn into Darth Vader and while it is fun to watch him fall there was no surprise within the trilogy. It is difficult to imagine topping Vader’s reveal of being Luke’s father or Leia being Luke’s sister (while not being spoiled by something on the internet) and I’m not saying the Sequel Trilogy needs to go that far, but they do need to strive to include some sort of twist that made Star Wars so exciting. Tricia Barr’s book captures the twist concept well and I’d like to see Star Wars go back to something like that. I am not going to spoil it, seriously you want to read this book, but while some aspects were predictable the author was able to pull a fast one on me towards the end of the book and I quite enjoyed it. The twist is something that has been missing from the Expanded Universe for quite a while and since things are probably starting over with Episode VII it is something that whoever has the contract to write stories needs to emphasize.
Politics, Fighter Pilots and Myth:
This is something Star Wars already accomplishes, though with recent releases they’ve really gotten away from it and I’d like to see them go back. They need the right mix of what makes Star Wars so enjoyable for so many. Sure the Jedi, Sith and Clone Troopers get quite a bit of credit but I think something that makes Star Wars unique is how they show aspects of the Galactic Senate. Then they put us in the cockpit and we fly in battle along with a regular person. Finally our imagination can run wild with the possibilities of the Force. Battlestar Galactica is an example of a series that finds the right balance and Barr’s Fireheart series is well on its way. There are a lot of parallels to Star Wars in Wynde and even some different takes on familiar phrases. Utara, the mother of the protagonist, is the Cultural Minister of New Romas so we get a chance to follow her around as she navigates the politics of a people’s expansion into space. Her daughter, Vespa, shows great skill in piloting air-combat craft and Badge, a Protectorate colonist who left Prime centuries ago, is one of the only characters trained in space-combat fighter craft. The Guardian, Nix, provides the Myth to the story which thankfully isn’t shoved into our faces and actually stays a mystery for much of the first book. Heck, I still have questions! The book finds the right balance and is a perfect set up for continuation of the series in a format that is pleasing to Star Wars fans.
Episode VII needs to encompass this format. They should continue to give us all aspects of the galaxy especially during a time of change from the Empire to the New Republic. Readers and viewers tend to be impatient (guilty) but not giving in to the impatience and allowing a story to play out with the proper set up will be more rewarding for the fans.
Bigger is Better:
This is a topic that needs to be said. Star Wars EU has fallen flat lately and it is in large part to the shorter length of the books. I do believe that a story can be told in a small number of pages but I also believe that it is more difficult to do so for the Sci-fi/Fantasy genre. Authors creating things that haven’t been invented and capturing our imaginations with new worlds or new powers and in order to do so the author has to provide more details than say if someone was talking about a regular road. I have been on a road so it isn’t hard for me to imagine one. However, I’ve never been in space so more time needs to be spent describing how a character feels, reacts or sees things. In order to flesh out these new worlds an author needs to provide ample details, especially in a universe where multiple authors get a chance to write their stories to provide continuity from one story to the next. I want to be able to envision being there with the character. Don’t short change or underestimate the readers. Don’t tell us that we won’t sit through a 3hr+ movie. We will, multiple times and we will love it if those scenes that make the movie longer also make it better.
Wynde is close to 800 pages of galaxy building details. We get background information; we visit multiple places with excellent descriptions. My only complaint is that I don’t think enough time was spent on the antagonists in this story. I’m not totally convinced that it needed more time if the antagonists aren’t going to be the main bad guys for the entire series. I’d rather get details that are going to come into play later which is the assumption I’m operating under. There was enough to understand motivations but it didn’t take over the story.
As Episode VII and any books that accompany it are being produced please don’t adhere to previous beliefs that the fans are ok with the shortness of book or can’t sit through a longer movie. Learn from authors that are successfully building series with their longer, more descriptive works. The current books in Star Wars EU aren’t even hitting 300 pages and I just don’t see how a universe can be created with new and exciting things in under 300 pages at a time.
This One’s for the Girls:
Well it wouldn’t be an opinion piece of mine without me mentioning how much I want to have a Star Wars heroine that I can look up to. Tricia Barr as the author of FANgirl blog did not disappoint in her use of women in this book. She put several front and center but didn’t overdo it. Sometimes it seems like the books now are trying too hard and failing at properly creating and using a female as their main character. The ensemble cast of Wynde properly utilizes both male and female characters to create a better story. There is conflict as part of Vespa’s growing pains to establish herself as a hero and get out from under the shadow of her parent’s successes. This is offset equally by Badge’s story as a male hero and his adventure integrating himself into a new planet.
I’ll keep this one short since you’ve heard it all from me before. For the future of Star Wars to be successful they can’t forget about the girls. The handling of women in the Expanded Universe has not been what I know these authors are capable of. I want my niece to say “I want to be (insert female character from Episode VII) for Halloween”.
If you’re looking for a book to pick up while waiting for Star Wars to release another book, go ahead and try Wynde for a Star Wars-feeling book that provides a little extra. Or if you’re a horse-crazy girl like me!