I can already see the questions running through your mind – why not see it now? Why wait? Well, one answer is I know what happens and I’m not 100% in favour of it. Why opt for spoiler info? The last decade of Star Wars product, in terms of what happened a few decades later, is not a pretty story. It’s certainly a tale from which the conclusion to draw is not to trust those supplying it. As a general rule, if I need spoiler info it denotes a lack of confidence. At the same time, it seems abundantly clear that The Force Awakens differs from its predecessors in that it may actually be a planned trilogy. The significance? I’ll get to that, keep reading.
The reason not to see it now is a protective one. You can find info on what goes down in TFA easily, so let’s just say I’m not exactly enthused over what they decided to do with Luke, Han and Leia. I can be fine with it for now, but I suspect there’s a chance seeing the film could have a detrimental effect on my liking for SW. And yet…there’s a sense of déjà vu about all this. About fifteen years ago, I started posting over at Jedi Council Literature, and three months after I joined a book called Vector Prime came out and the forum ended up in a months long conflagration!
VP was the beginning of the New Jedi Order series that saw the galaxy invaded by a bunch of sadomasochistic, biotech-wielding religious fanatics – the Yuuzhan Vong. The threat isn’t taken seriously by the New Republic, even after the Vong have killed Chewbacca, which ultimately leads to the fall of Coruscant two years later. The short story is I wasn’t a fan, despite lots of other people being so – starting to see the pattern here? The big problem with any continuation is how to create a new enemy, without undermining or diminishing the previous victories – in this case, the Battle of Endor. The initial solution for 1991-1999 was to have new enemies but who were not an existential threat. Sure, for a book or two they might be on the edge of victory, but then there’d be a turnaround and, as all villains must, they lose. VP did not so much stick to that template as set it on fire.
Jump forward four years and the conclusion to the series came out – The Unifying Force. TUF delivered that which no one expected, a very strong conclusion that delivered for fans and critics of the series alike. That it did all that unexpectedly only amplified the impact. One of the things it put in motion is the idea of redeeming the Vong, that a large reason for them going so wrong was losing their connection to the Force. But few subsequent books actually picked up the gauntlet TUF threw down until 2006. Then Dark Horse Comics began their Legacy series, set 100 years later and for which an extensive future history was set up. This history envisaged that decades later the Vong’s descendants would come to understand the level of harm their ancestors inflicted and would seek to offer a means of atonement and reparation. In this they would be backed by the Jedi, though in the shadows lurked the Sith, waiting to take advantage…
Legacy became one of my favourite stories. It took one of the best hanging threads from TUF and really ran with it. That in turn required I be a bit more understanding towards the NJO. I still dislike some of the moves it made, I’m still not in the camp of killing characters – even the likes of Jacen and Jaina Solo. Why? Because once a character gets killed off – or in the case of Jaina, loses her brother – it is those acts that tend to come to define them. Without them, there’s far more potential for an author to find a new angle or approach that excites fans while winning over those who did not like the characters. Still, I can’t be as harsh on NJO as I was over a decade ago.
What if Episode VIII or IX does a TUF-level move? Something that changes the game greatly and also lifts up its preceding chapters? Only a fool would decide it couldn’t happen. Therefore a long game is the best solution. I suspect I’ll see all three films in 2020 once Episode IX is out on DVD and just happens to be available as a trilogy set.
For the last eighteen months, in the new world of SW there was an overall optimism to the line that it had not possessed in years. A New Dawn started it, Rebels – a series I never expected to like yet could not help but be charmed by – continued it. Then there is the ongoing phenomenon of Marvel’s quite insane comic sales, with issues racking up sales figures that haven’t been seen in the industry in years. Their greatest trick so far has been in setting up inspired creative collaborations. Finally books like Aftermath took a huge gamble in telling a post-Endor story that minimally featured the main characters. There have been some very smart and innovative developments that could lead you to think new trails are being blazed. In contrast to this, At the same time, TFA comes across as very discordant, as retro and not in a good way.
Jump back to 2002 and Episode II: Attack of the Clones – has anyone yet recovered from the romance plot? No? Thought so. The final scenes of the film, however, were brilliant. Rank after rank of clones boarding what were clearly predecessor Star Destroyers – the design similarity was unmistakable. What those scenes demanded was continuation. Two months later Dark Horse kicked off their Clone Wars stories, which would run all the way up to Episode III. It ended up being one of the best sustained runs and it even gave an extra edge to the third film, for it had managed to render Anakin more likable! Given how TFA ends, I’d say it needs this kind of bold move. It would be much harder to do, as the danger is that a perception of having to read a certain story can backfire badly on it, but if the story was good enough and executed well enough, that perception could be both minimized and overcome.
For the last three weeks I’ve been discussing TFA with a lot of people online – how can I do that without seeing the film? It comes down to sticking to a couple of key rules – cede detail points to those who have seen it and don’t post endlessly negative and repetitive messages. My reason to engage in those conversations is to see if there is a way of rendering the events that can work. Just because I have not found it does not mean it does not exist and if someone else does all the work in setting it up, well that’s a bonus. Being good humoured and positive as far as possible is key – you cannot let a piece of work affect your own views to the degree that you become depressed by it all.
Ah, but am I not too attached to the characters to respond so to a mere film summary? Come on, of course I’m attached to the characters. No one follows a franchise for twenty years if they don’t care about it! I never expected this particular twist. I avoided spoiler info up to 16 December 2015 because I wanted it to be reliable and accurate. Once I had that? Everything changed very rapidly – I suspect I would like a good perhaps 80% of what TFA does, but that 10% I’m not going to like will end up just so placed to balance out and even exceed it! I could play the Cartman card: Screw you guys, I’m going home! Yet there is a huge amount to still enjoy – I’m just about to start on the Battleground: Twilight Company book. Later this year I know I’ll be buying the Rebels Season 2 DVD.
If need be, I could just abandon the 30-year era while still enjoying all the other eras. I have every reason to keep fleeing the end really. It’s all still far too much fun!