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Sacred Shaaks – Eleven-ThirtyEight Goes Negative

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Despite all the hay I’ve made over wanting this site to be a source of positivity, I belong to the school of thought that says if you’re not making anyone angry, you’re doing something wrong. Between my natural contrarianism and a nagging aversion to treading the same ground as every other fan blog under the suns, now and then I’ll go out of my way to highlight a point of view purely because I don’t hear it very often. Even if I don’t personally agree with something, if I feel like there’s a fair point to be made that’s being denied a seat at the table due to nothing more than aggressive common consensus, I consider it our responsibility as a soapbox to expand that conversation rather than condense it.

While that philosophy has poked its head out at least a handful of times already, its most blatant expression on this site is one I haven’t really addressed overtly before—the phrase “no sacred shaaks” in our tagline up top. Totally aside from whatever my actual opinions are, nothing gets my back up more than a reasonable person being shouted down because their opinion is unpopular. One of the things I love about Star Wars is that it can be interpreted in so many different ways; nothing about it is wholly good or wholly bad, and to orthodoxically condemn or defend any one element is to reduce it by definition—but ask some fans and you’d never know it.

For example: continuity. I’m a proud Expanded Universe fan who started a very EU-heavy blog, who wrote for the EU sections of TFN, who posts nigh-exclusively in the Literature section of the Jedi Council Forums, who’s spent more than half his life and probably thousands of dollars on multiple bookshelves’ worth of tie-in stories that, from a certain point of view, no longer matter. From a certain point of view, that blows. If it’d been up to me, it wouldn’t have happened.

But my appreciation of the grand unified continuity that existed at least ostensibly until April 25th is a drop in the bucket of my appreciation for the entity that is Star Wars.

Recently, EU fans on Facebook bombarded Del Rey’s Star Wars page with the hashtag #GiveUsLegends. While this campaign seemed to at least acknowledge that the reboot is a done deal and was aiming simply for further stories in the Legends continuity rather than an outright reversal, jarjarabramsthe overall character of the attendant comments is pretty disheartening to me. Posting sentiments and pictures like the ones accompanying this piece is hollow and self-serving and accomplishes nothing, and I think this level of rabid petulance is keeping people from treating the material that is coming up, some of which is being written by people we worshipped six months ago, with the credibility it deserves just because it’s not the same universe. Some people were even flat-out telling people not to read A New Dawn, but to read Kenobi instead.

Do they think John Jackson Miller wants that? Or do they ultimately not give a shit about him and his writing, beyond his connection to their precious continuity? Do they see Kenobi, one of the best EU books ever, as good only because of the larger universe that it exists within, yet scarcely even references? Me, I’d take a post-reboot JJM book (or hell, an outright Infinities JJM book where Luke is a frog) over Crucible 2: Columi Boogaloo, and differences in author taste notwithstanding, it’s hard for me to get my head around someone who wouldn’t.

When I see VIPs talk about how the old EU wasn’t technically canon but this time it really counts, I can get my head around how crass that sounds to EU fans, because I am one. I recognize that the term Legends, and saying that it all still matters even if it didn’t strictly “happen” is a PR strategy—but that doesn’t make it malicious, or lazy, or wrong.

As a lifelong superhero fan, maybe I’ve just got different DNA than people who grew up primarily as Star Wars fans; I grew up instead with the DC Animated Universe, a series of TV shows that ran from 1992 to 2006 and existed in one continuous continuity with each other. I’ll be talking more about that in the future, but long story short, that awesome universe of storytelling didn’t ruin other versions of the Batman mythos for me, it enhanced them. My excitement for Batman Begins in 2005 came largely from my love of the animated version of Ra’s al Ghul I grew up with, and for me to have expected Liam Neeson’s Ra’s to mesh even remotely with the cartoon version (let alone the original version in the comics) would’ve been ridiculous. No one expects that from comics.

Many are quick to point out here that Star Wars is different somehow, and for a time, they were right. The fact that SW never rebooted—at least officially—throughout thirty-seven years of disparate storytelling across multiple generations of creators was indeed a large part of what drew me into it, and it was a remarkable thing. But it’s not everything. And I’m past it.

I asked the rest of the staff to come up with a sacred cow—ah, I mean shaak—of their own and tear it a new one. Here’s what they had to say.

Rocky: The prophecy of the Chosen One is a central theme of the PT, and gives the Jedi Order a reason to consider training young Anakin Skywalker, though he is long past the age of most beginning Jedi. But does it really bring anything to Star Wars? I say not.

Why do we need someone to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force? In all honesty, the Jedi and Sith conflict- or any other variation of light versus dark- is a central feature of the Star Wars saga. Do we really need someone who eliminates the plot potential of the Jedi and Sith? Furthermore, destruction of the Sith is kind of a difficult task. Every time the Sith are presumed dead and gone, they crop up again. They’ve left a trail of Holocrons, tombs, failed acolytes, and stories across the galaxy; we aren’t going to be able to kill them by throwing the Sith Lord down the reactor core shaft of the Death Star and then having his apprentice die. The continued resurgence of the Sith in the literary EU (and their likely reappearance in future Star Wars) makes this idea of the Chosen One seem like a useless prophecy. It barely does anything save seem hypocritical.

Anakin Skywalker doesn’t really seem like the sort who will destroy the Sith- at best, he seems like he might walk away from the Jedi, and at worst, is it really a surprise he ends up on the dark side? He’s reckless, impulsive, and doesn’t really ever learn how to master his negative emotions, as befits someone who grew up enslaved. Do we even need someone to bring balance to the Force when that someone can barely keep himself going in the direction the Jedi demand? Yes, he ends up redeemed and destroying Darth Sidious in the end, but just look at Obi-Wan’s confusion. “You were supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them!” No pressure, of course. This prophecy clearly isn’t turning out as planned and isn’t really bringing much to the Force.

The whole prophecy of the Chosen One seems like a panacea to the ongoing storyline of Star Wars. The light versus dark conflict is a centerpiece of the universe as a whole, and losing it would eliminate a vital plot hook. Does it really matter if Anakin has a special destiny? He has quite enough plot as is, what with the being incredibly Force-sensitive, being the child of the Force itself, and being accepted for Jedi training despite being long past the normal age. Do we need to add a prophecy into the mix? And anyways, in the big scheme of Star Wars storytelling, the destruction of the Sith wouldn’t actually make for an interesting story. It might not even be a ‘balance’ to the Force, but that’s another article.

Lisa: If you had told me I was going to write these paragraphs a few years ago I would have told you that you were crazy. However, when I was asked to think about the most overrated sacred cow of Star Wars, Anakin Solo immediately jumped into my head. I’m not here to argue that Anakin Solo, himself, is overrated. Instead I’m arguing that his death being the worst thing that could’ve happened to his character is overrated. Pretty much since Star by Star people have been clamoring for Anakin Solo to return from the dead. For him to not actually be dead. Heck they bring back bad guys in weird ways all the time, why not him? I’ve see every argument for it. Killing off Anakin Solo was the best thing Troy Denning or any author ever did for the character.

Hear me out. How many of us have been happy with our favorite characters over the last several years? As an avid Corran Horn fan I’ve had to suffer through horrible characterizations, a banishment for being too awesome in the fight for Ithor and agonizing things done to his family. Some of these things have been so bad that I upon further reflection I wish he had been able to go out as a hero like Anakin did. Would Anakin have gotten Jacen’s storyline? It seems a little cliche to have another Anakin going to the dark side. If Anakin had lived would Jaina have become a Sith? I would have hated that more than Jacen because we have so few decent female characters in the EU. I also don’t think I could’ve handled Anakin falling to the dark side either. He was always the embodiment of light out of the three Solo kids. He was being groomed and shown to the readers as the future of Star Wars which is why his death hit us so hard. It was easy to find things not to like about the other two kids but Anakin was practically perfect, right down to his cutesy romance with Tahiri.

Anakin needed to die precisely because he was too perfect. A light that shines that brightly is eventually going to go out. If he hadn’t have died in Star by Star he was going to grow up to disappoint the readers. I have spent years being in the “please bring back Anakin Solo” fan club because I adored his character so much. But I definitely put him on a pedestal leading up to his death to the point that there wasn’t going to be a better way for him to be written. The pedestal he was written onto and placed by the authors and the readers was unattainable for a character to be on. My younger self was fairly certain that Anakin was going to singlehandedly win the war against the Yuuzhan Vong because he was just that good. Things escalated when he was protecting a pregnant Mara Jade and seemed to be able to do no wrong. All of this made his death more shocking but also necessary. Anakin Solo’s death was the best thing to happen to his character. Star Wars has always had heroes that get to die a heroes’ death and we shouldn’t try to take that away from a fantastic Jedi in Anakin Solo.

Ben: The tendency to mythologize creative figures as total geniuses has few better examples than that of George Lucas. He encountered massive success with Star Wars yet has, at best, a highly ambivalent relationship with it. At worst? Likely love-hate, he may love it for all the other things its success enabled him to do, yet loathe it forever defining him. All of that would be no real problem….. Except for his inability to really let go of his baby!

It is one thing for a writer to be unable to work well with other writers, it’s fairly standard in fact. Writing is an act requiring singular vision whatever the medium a story is created for. But a measure of consistency is expected of a writer when they decide to create a series. Lucas fails at this dismally. The likely reason is that, when he came to do the prequels, there was no one able to tell him that things were going wrong. Good ideas? Perhaps. Execution of those concepts? All over the place!

Lucas’ utter lack of discipline and sense of quality control on his own work has been disastrous for Star Wars. He took a set of talented actors and turned them into robots! All of those in main roles on the prequels had careers before doing the prequels, only a few walked away still in possession of one. What is that due to? Lucas’ directorial style. Yet, you can easily find no end of impassioned apologies online, as if Lucas’ vision is perfect, we just aren’t looking at it right! Basically the Emperor’s New Clothes argument.

At the same time you would expect there to be clear linkages to the earlier yet chronologically later work, wouldn’t you? Forget about it. This is a man whose vision for his series vacillated between six and nine films, even going so far as to issue a definitive statement that it’s just six episodes. Then a few years later flogs SW to Disney and says he has plans for films 7-9! Sure, there’s the Joe Quesada defense of being allowed to change your mind, but Joe Q. only did it on the Marvel and Ultimate lines crossing over, he knew you can only do that a couple of times and retain any sense of integrity. Lucas? Doesn’t seem to care a whit about that!

Ah, but shouldn’t we be grateful to Lucas for creating SW? If he created it and let people watch it for free, then yes, a thank you and a measure of appreciation is in order. He didn’t, it was a commercial undertaking and thus commercial rules apply, I pay to see SW, that’s it, screw gratitude – he’s got my money instead, quite a bit of it in fact.

What Lucas has also demonstrated a consistent failure on is to understand what happens when a story becomes as popular as SW. It is a lesson that J.K. Rowling understood way ahead of him. Once a story hits a certain level of mass popularity, it does not belong exclusively to its creator! It has grown beyond that individual and is now something else, something other. Lucas rejects this utterly, he created SW and he’ll do whatever he damn well wants.

For a massively popular franchise such as SW, the choice is stark: if it stays and remains as exclusively defined by a creator of haphazard habits, then it ought to go the route of Babylon 5 and end once and for all. If it is to continue with any sense for the future, it needs to be allowed to walk away from and surpass its creator in the way Star Trek did after Roddenberry’s passing. In all honesty though, between them Disney and Lucas will likely strip-mine SW to depletion first!

Alexander: Luke Skywalker is the archetypical hero. The Original Trilogy revolves around him. The prequels revolves around his father. The Expanded Universe revolves around him, his nieces and nephews, his children, and his apprentices. But mostly still him. Luke Skywalker is revered as the greatest hero in the history of the galaxy: it would be taken as sacrilege for any other to ever eclipse him. He will forever remain as the pinnacle of the franchise’s pantheon of heroes. I have only a single question.

Why?

When we meet him, he’s dead weight. A bland, mildly whiny farmboy looking for his ticket offworld. Everything that’s actually important initially has to do with Obi-Wan or Leia: it’s the latter’s search for the former that results in Luke’s farm being wiped off the map so that he has no choice but to tag along on the trip to Alderaan. Luke’s significance in the grand scheme of things doesn’t truly take form until they reach Yavin, where he turns out to be one of the galaxy’s finest starfighter pilots despite never having flown one before. Or left the surface of his homeworld. For all we praise his destruction of the Death Star, it should be remembered that Red Leader accomplished what essentially amounts to the exact same feat first: it’s only due to his poor luck, some timely advice from a friendly neighborhood ghost, and Han jumping Vader at the last minute that it was Luke who scored the kill and lived to tell the tale.

The same traits that lead Luke to many of his most heroic deeds can also be said to be responsible for his greatest failures. He is brave and selfless, but also reckless and impatient and overly confident in his own abilities. The instinct that leads him to rescue Leia from the bowels of the Death Star is also responsible for his abandonment of his training to challenge Darth Vader. Though Yoda and Obi-Wan may have been incorrect about his father’s redemption, that doesn’t mean they were wrong about his flaws. He simply wasn’t ready to face Vader, and would have died on Bespin if not for some extremely good timing on the Falcon‘s part. By the time he returns to Dagobah, he’s been choking alien pigs with his mind and taking wardrobe tips from the dark side, so clearly that whole lesson in the cave didn’t stick very well, either.

We applaud Luke’s boundless determination to see his father redeemed, but very rarely question the wisdom of that determination. As with Bespin, his actions are viewed favorably only in light of his ultimate success. Consider their few interactions together: Vader murdering his mentor, Vader trying to shoot him down, Vader proposing a coup d’état as a father-son bonding activity, Vader cutting off his hand (after torturing his friends), etc. And, of course, it cannot be forgotten that his father was also the most prominent enforcer of a regime that Luke and his friends had dedicated their lives to overthrowing. When you think about it, his insistence that there is still good in his father has remarkably little basis in reality.

It’s often said that Star Wars is the saga of the Skywalkers: while taken to ludicrous heights by the Expanded Universe, it is true in a sense that we don’t often consider. Luke’s story has far more to do with his father than it does the Galactic Civil War. He almost dies twice in The Empire Strikes Back, and his survival in both cases is due entirely to his friends. Leia and Han do all the heavy lifting when it comes to disposing of Jabba and Boba, as well as bringing down the shields around the second Death Star, the destruction of which is carried out by Wedge Antilles and Lando Calrissian. Even Luke’s part in defeating the Emperor (moments before he would’ve died anyways) is limited to passively persuading his father to deposit him down the nearest shaft. 

We’ve built up a legend around Luke Skywalker as the hero of the rebellion and the exemplar of the Jedi without ever pausing to consider if he truly deserves the incredible regard we hold him in. He benefits from comparison to his father, but only because Anakin Skywalker set an embarrassingly low bar for him to exceed. Luke’s abilities in the cockpit and with the lightsaber are clearly not unmatched, his judgment frequently questionable, and he has to have his life saved by someone else at least once per film. Far from the image of the all-powerful, all-forgiving avatar of the light side we often imagine him as, Luke Skywalker is a hero with a fairly terrible track record for independent action and a bad habit of getting himself into situations he can’t get out of again.

One thought to “Sacred Shaaks – Eleven-ThirtyEight Goes Negative”

  1. Kudos to Ben here, because I couldn’t agree more.

    I’ve re-watched the prequels recently, and 15 years after TPM, it’s time to admit that they are just bad. They’re bad films. The characters are poorly written and realized, the pacing (outside of the second half of ROTS) is poor, and even the action seems dated and silly. Rewatch the fight between the Emperor and Yoda. Yoda throws him into a chair. Its almost laughable.

    I listen to some great Star Wars podcasts that take the “Emperor’s New Clothes” line towards the prequels – “You just don’t understand!” I do understand. They’re unwatchable at this point, and if the new trilogy is 75% percent as fun or compelling as, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, that point is really going to be hammered home.

    I think, in 20 years or so, the Clone Wars series will be the preferred and most-long lasting of all the prequel era canon. Not perfect, but when it was good, it was characters and situations that you cared about. Filoni & Co. deserve a lot of credit for making us care about characters that Lucas just assumed we would.

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