Now that Celebration Anaheim is underway and some portion of our audience will be reading this on their phones surrounded by other Star Wars fans, I thought it would be a good time to begin a new recurring interview feature whose title I’m shamelessly ripping off from Stephen Colbert, Better Know a Fan. While I pride myself on this site featuring a healthy range of opinions among its regular staff, I occasionally come across people whose perspectives are interesting to me but not necessarily in an editorial context—this will be my vehicle to offer those people a moment at the microphone. If you’re familiar with the Literature boards at the Jedi Council Forums, my first subject will be very familiar to you—in only a few years of posting, he’s become a fixture there, and while we may not always agree with him, we all know exactly where he stands.
Zachary Skaggs, known at the JCs as Zeta1127, could be listed in the dictionary under the word “consistent”. Despite being relatively new to the online community, he makes no bones about his view that Star Wars’ glory days are well behind it, thanks to the editorial direction of the last several years of “Big Three” novels and now the continuity shakeups of The Clone Wars and the sequel trilogy. While normally I’m content to keep incessant fan negativity at arm’s length, especially here, Zachary isn’t your typical complainer. As, frankly, unreasonable as his views of Lucasfilm can be, the man doesn’t have a trollish bone in his body—no matter how much some of us roll our eyes or even outright tease him for being such a downer, he takes it all in good humor and never gets petty or personal, which in my view warrants respect. I wanted to find out what makes him tick, and he was gracious enough to oblige me.
For starters, give me a little background on yourself—how did you first become a Star Wars fan? What was your first Expanded Universe story?
I became a Star Wars fan growing up with the Original Trilogy on VHS in the 90’s, before even the Special Editions. During the 90’s, the only Star Wars outside of the films I was really familiar with was video games, namely Star Wars Arcade and the Super Star Wars games. Around the Prequel Trilogy, I discovered the existence of the Expanded Universe, namely the Bantam novels, so I started with the only way that seemed logical, in publication order starting with Heir to the Empire, followed by the rest of Bantam novels, the New Jedi Order series, and numerous Del Rey novels.
And when do you remember first feeling put off by the direction of the franchise? Legacy of the Force?
After reading the New Jedi Order series through the library, I was tired of having to request books from other libraries, I had an uneasy feeling about the Dark Nest trilogy, specifically the name, and I was also in need of a break from reading another major series. So I stopped at The Unifying Force as the farthest point in the timeline, only really reading standalone Del Rey novels that either filled in the blanks during the Prequel Trilogy or were set during and after the Original Trilogy alongside the Bantam novels.
I also ended up playing The Force Unleashed video game during this period, and while I found it to be a decent enough video game, I ultimately couldn’t reconcile how the founding of the Rebellion was portrayed in that game with what I knew about that era, namely Interlude at Darkknell, a novella from Tales from the New Republic, which was one of the first Star Wars books beyond the film novelizations I owned.
I also ended up not bothering to watch The Clone Wars television series, even the film in theaters, for no particular reason.
Then I discovered several things about what had happened beyond what I had already read or played, via Wookieepedia a few years ago, which was around the time that I had found my way to TheForce.net and the Jedi Council Forums, that The Clone Wars seriously conflicted with the Clone Wars multimedia project timeline and what had transpired during the post-New Jedi Order time period, primarily Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi. Even though I didn’t read much of the multimedia project. I had read and played by that point, the Republic Commando video game, which led to reading the Republic Commando series, and Labyrinth of Evil, Revenge of the Sith novelization, and Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, which included a timeline of the Clone Wars and painted a picture of what happened during the multimedia project. I was extremely alarmed by what I learned about the post-New Jedi Order time period to say the least.
In other words, it was a combination of the post-New Jedi Order time period, The Force Unleashed, and The Clone Wars, not any one specific book, video game, or television show, that had me feeling put off by the direction of the franchise.
So if I’m understanding the timeline right, you had already given up on (or at least needed a “break” from) the post-TUF novels well before learning online that the plots weren’t to your liking, correct? Whereas with the Clone Wars books, you were still actively reading them (in the form of RC, LoE, etc) when TCW came along and made a mess of them?
Yes, that is the simplest way to put it.
So the common thread in those two areas seems to be outside influence, as opposed to actually reading something and determining you didn’t like it/weren’t interested in going further with it. What SW books, if any, have you actually read and disliked? Or would you say that your firsthand experiences with the EU have all been positive, with the exception, perhaps, of TFU? And on a related note, has internet feedback ever motivated you to read something you wouldn’t have otherwise, or does it only seem to push you in the other direction?
Well, when I am literally astounded by the main plot points of the post-NJO, the idea of Jacen falling, Vergere being written as a Sith, and Daala as Chief of State, I kind of didn’t have any motivation to read it. I don’t think a few good one liners I have heard about are enough to make up for all of that.
Yeah, an overall positive firsthand experience, though I have plenty of misgivings about several things I have read. I scarcely care about the Bantam run beyond Zahn, Stackpole, Allston, and Crispin, at least not enough to buy much of anything. I was never pleased with Luke’s story in the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy, though that didn’t ruin the trilogy for me. I had problems with Star By Star, mainly with the strike team business, so knowing the post-NJO was led by Troy Denning didn’t exactly thrill me anyway. The only reasons I liked RC is because I got attached to Delta and Omega Squad and the Mandalorians being fleshed out, though I still haven’t even bothered to read Imperial Commando: 501st.
Feedback works both ways. I probably wouldn’t have given John Jackson Miller a try with Lost Tribe of the Sith, literally taking a gamble on buying it without having read it previously through the library or anything like that, if it wasn’t for the generally positive reaction to his work. To that point I have been very interested in Knight Errant and Kenobi. The same will probably also apply to Scourge and the pre-Zahn novels, since I have also bought them, though I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. Feedback is less of an issue when I have already read something by an author before, though I blindly read the Bantam run and the NJO without any feedback. Of course, I am capable of buying something without any feedback. I randomly bought a BattleTech trilogy, The Legend of the Jade Phoenix trilogy by Robert Thurston, completely unaware of Stackpole’s involvement in that universe or that it was more of an adult novel than Star Wars, in order to use up a gift card at Barnes & Noble when I got the OT novelizations a long time ago. I had trouble getting into it because of the strange beginning to the first book, only finally reading it a few years later.
It sounds like your experience of the Bantam and NJO eras is pretty typical then, at least compared to most other forumers we know. Likewise, most of our compatriots have unfavorable views of the post-NJO just like you do. Personally, I didn’t care for the direction of LotF for exactly the same reasons as you, but I still found things to enjoy about it, and more importantly I was able to move on and mostly forget about it. Many people would say that the unusual thing about you isn’t how you feel, it’s that you still feel so strongly about it all these years on–-what do you think makes you different from most people?
My reaction is still so strong in part, because when I got here, I had only just found out about what the post-NJO and TCW had done. So it was almost like the post-NJO and TCW happened all at once for me in 2010 to 2012 when I discovered their implications on Wookieepedia. Which all started with learning about the Tantive IV in RotS suddenly being identified as the Sundered Heart thanks to TCW.
I generally believe in the EU, almost loving it even more than the films. So seeing the story take a negative direction and then to have so much of what I love deemed not the story, especially everything that didn’t come from Lucas before the Story Group, is kind of frustrating. Basically being told to unlearn what I have learned by TCW and then the Legends business, especially books directly tied to the films like LoE and the RotS novelization, just completely undermines my enthusiasm for Star Wars going forward. To the point I almost feel like a fan of completely different universe that was coincidentally also called Star Wars.
I am probably a little bit too pessimistic about the post-NJO and TCW, and could stand to talk more about what I do like, but without enthusiasm for the ongoing Star Wars story, I am bound to be fairly pessimistic. I just wonder how the post-NJO could have been allowed to transpire the way it did. I guess when LFL had plans to be acquired by Disney and to finally do more films beyond the Saga, making the books ready for that didn’t really matter to them. The Lucas factor is literally the only way I can halfway comprehend why TCW happened the way it did. The way more films are almost universally praised by fans just puzzles me, because Star Wars has been so much more than just the Saga to me for so long. I had resigned myself to the fact there wouldn’t be any more Star Wars films not long after RotS, and with it Star Wars films as a whole, had left theaters for the last time.
Do you see other fans as too forgiving? Or too easy to please?
Perhaps a little bit of both, though I like to believe I am pretty easy to please.
Well I would say that TCW and its issues were absolutely a harbinger of the reboot, but when you get into LotF and FotJ, you’re talking about stuff that was in the planning stages up to a decade ago, by people who would’ve had no idea what was coming down the line. As much as one might not care for the direction that span of books went in, there’s little doubt in my mind that Del Rey and its stable of authors were doing what they thought were the most worthwhile stories.
Before we get into the reboot itself, though, it seems that your distaste for post-NJO is right up there with your distaste for the reboot. If you really think those stories were mistakes on that significant a level, isn’t there a part of you that’s relieved they no longer matter—even if it means losing good stuff in the bargain? As you said, you were only really into a few of the old EU’s authors to begin with—and if you stack all the books by Zahn, Stackpole, etc. up against the entirety of DN, LotF and FotJ, that’s pretty close to an even trade.
Let me put it another way—if we could go back in time three years and give you control of the franchise, what would you have wanted to do about those stories if not reboot them?
Of course, I am relieved the post-NJO no longer matters, and if they wouldn’t have rebooted away the post-NJO for new films, I would have been as displeased as I am with the current situation. I just didn’t think it should have taken new films for them to realize that the universe had problems that needed to be addressed, but no, LFL genuinely believed there was nothing wrong with the post-NJO.
Do you plan on seeing TFA? Is there any scenario you can imagine where you like the movie enough to start reading the new canon material?
I am currently leaning toward not seeing TFA at this time. That would assume I’d actually enjoy the movie, and everything I have seen so far leads me to believe I won’t enjoy it. If the way I ignored TCW before I even learned about what it had done is any indication, I believe it is very likely I could avoid TFA and the ST as a whole. Without any EU characters or being a continuation of any EU events as far as we know, there isn’t anything about the film drawing me in so far. TFA will have to be pretty amazing for me to give the new canon material a try, which I am not certain will be the case, since all of my expectations are centered around the EU.
I had planned on getting more directly into your view of the reboot, but now that we’ve come this far I think we’ve given people a pretty good idea. In light of all that, what I’m wondering is, what do you get out of your Star Wars fandom in its current form? It’s perfectly normal for someone’s interest in a franchise to lapse when the output no longer pleases them, but in my experience, people typically move on to other things—whereas you keep coming to the Jedi Council Forums every day to talk about these things that you don’t like and don’t expect to ever come around on. To the rest of us it seems borderline masochistic, dwelling for years now on something you’re so unhappy about—so are we wrong? What positive benefit do you get from continuing to talk about it every day? Is it therapeutic somehow?
I still love Star Wars, especially since it has been a part of my life for the last twenty years, which is most of my life. I just don’t want to let go of Star Wars. I am not certain there is another universe to move on to. I have been a Star Trek fan about as long as I have been a Star Wars fan, but that universe has been a mess since Enterprise, with the Abrams films almost being a nail in the coffin. I have been a Stargate fan for a very long time, but that universe is practically dead thanks to the poor reception to Universe, which I didn’t like either, and the canning of more SG-1 and Atlantis films. I got into Halo around the time I started having doubts about Star Wars, only for 343 Industries to take things in a direction I am unsure about, even picking up Traviss and Denning. Harry Potter, Homeworld, and The Elder Scrolls are really the only universes that have gotten my attention that still seem to have the potential to continue in a way I might enjoy. The only other universe of note is Warhammer 40,000, but I have only played Dawn of War and its expansions without having beat any of the campaigns or experienced anything beyond the game and its expansions. I know I say the same thing over and over again, which probably needs to be stopped, or at least toned down. It is therapeutic in a way, though I need to stop poking my nose into every new canon related thread.
Let me ask that question a little more broadly—does talking about SW make you happy? Some people do genuinely enjoy ranting about their franchises of choice but from you it feels more like misanthropy than blowing off steam. It’s also interesting that half the other franchises you profess to be a fan of have also recently gone downhill in your view; do you think that’s a coincidence? Do you see yourself as a happy person overall, who just happens to be dealing with a problematic set of fandoms at the moment?
Yes, talking about Star Wars does make me happy. I am definitely not mad for the sake of being mad, I care about Star Wars. Yes, I believe I am a happy person overall, who just happens to be dealing with a problematic set of fandoms at the moment.
Celebration starts this week—I’m guessing you’re not attending, but let’s pretend you’re there. You get the opportunity to have a five-minute private conversation with JJ Abrams and Dave Filoni. Keeping in mind that A) the reboot isn’t going away, and B) it wasn’t their call anyway, what would you want to say to them? What could they do—within this reality—that would make you happier?
I would want to know if the ST being a EU-friendly story of any kind was even considered, and if not why that was the case.
If TFA ended up having substantial EU components—Jacen, Jaina, Mara, and Ben were involved, say, and just the plot was different—would that make any difference to you? Are there shades of grey in terms of how close it is to the Legends continuity, or is it all or nothing?
The inclusion of Jacen, Jaina, Mara, and Ben in a story compatible with the EU through Survivor’s Quest is all it would take for me to be interested in TFA. I think there is room for shades of grey, since I would obviously not want them following the post-NJO and I am willing to give a different story than the NJO a try.
Same premise as before, but this time you’re stuck in an elevator with a 15-year-old girl in an Ahsoka costume. She’s barely even aware of the EU or the reboot, but she loves the TV shows and is excited for the ST. What would you want to talk to her about? Do you see yourself as having anything in common with fans like that?
I probably wouldn’t want to talk to her about anything. I don’t think I have anything in common with a fan like that, because all of that is pretty much another universe to me.
Final question: you’ve obviously grown attached to Star Wars as you came to know it in the 90s, but why do you think you became so invested in SW to begin with? Before you came to know the EU, what originally made you love this franchise so much?
The OT with so many iconic characters in an interesting universe, before even the Special Editions, is what got me so invested in Star Wars. Then the EU, namely the books, just enhanced that investment by making Star Wars so much more than just a saga of six films. In fact Star Wars was more than a saga to me even before it really became a saga with the PT thanks to the EU. But I guess Star Wars being more than films was just too good to be true.
Okay, let me try that again, because you kind of breezed over what I actually wanted to know—“iconic” and “interesting” don’t really tell me much. What was interesting about the OT? What about it made you pick up a SW book in the first place?
The concept of monomyth, especially the hero’s journey, that Lucas learned about from The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, which were a major influence that made Star Wars what it became, are what drew me to Star Wars, though I didn’t really understand that those concepts are what drew me to Star Wars until a few years ago.
And knowing him like I do, I can’t imagine a more characteristic statement to end on than that. Thanks to Zachary for his time and cooperation, and here’s hoping he can find something in SW to believe in again someday.